Pop Addict: Ólöf Arnalds’ Innundir Skinni

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Ólöf Arnalds

Ólöf Arnalds: Innundir Skinni (One Little Indian, 9/14/10)

Ólöf Arnalds: “Surrender”
[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Olof_Arnalds_Surrender.mp3|titles=Olof Arnalds: “Surrender”]

Icelandic singer and multi-instrumentalist Ólöf Arnalds has crafted an intimate and lovely sophomore record, Innundir Skinni, released on the London-based label One Little Indian. Arnalds, a touring member of Múm since 2003, follows up Við og Við – voted Iceland’s Record of the Year in 2007 – with nine songs produced by Sigur Rós keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson.

Classically trained on the violin and viola, and self-taught on the guitar and charango, Arnalds enlists the help of fellow Icelandic musicians Skúli Sverrisson, Davið Þór Jónsson, and Björk as well as Secret Chiefs 3 contributor Shahzad Ismaily.

Innundir Skinni – “Under the Skin” in English – is largely an album of balance, of the ebb and flow between quiet moments and orchestral bursts. It’s a calm yet affecting album, due in large part to Arnalds’ vocal charm. For the many instruments she plays, her most enchanting tool is her voice — at times folksy and melodic, at others high-pitched and lilting – drawing comparisons to Kate Bush and, in rare moments, Joanna Newsom. Yet her style, acutely Nordic, is distinctly her own.

The album’s opening track, “Vinnur Minn,” begins with a quaint, mousy whisper over nylon strumming. As the chorus unfolds, horns and strings warm the background, building to a brief, blooming moment that fades as quickly as it appears. The rest of Innundir Skinni works much the same. String arrangements melt into lonely guitar plucking. Horns pull in waves over the slide of Arnalds’ fingers on the charango. Instruments fill the soft space around her voice only to dissolve with the slightest touch.

Unlike Við og Við, the record features English lyrics on three tracks. Consequently, two of these songs – “Surrender” and “Crazy Car” – are her singles in the States, suggesting that some listeners might not have the patience, sadly, for her dips into Icelandic, for the warbled melodies that, upon close listening, don’t feel all that foreign.

“Crazy Car,” the album’s second single, is a song about a friend who has traveled to New York City. Its refrain – “don’t go in the crazy car” – is both a serious and lighthearted metaphor for the world outside of one’s own, for the nether regions beyond Iceland, for the places that pose a threat to one’s identity. It has as much to do with Arnalds’ own venture into music abroad as it has to do with her worries over a friend’s American escapade. In many ways, this album is her own adventure, a stab at traversing the well-worn path that many Icelandic musicians have followed to the States.

Innundir Skinni, at its heart, sounds incredibly Nordic, yet there are moments that beg for further inspection, for a new audience, for the listener to reach beyond those three English-language tracks.  It’s an album about the innate duality of taking one’s music abroad. It’s foreign and comfortable, cautious and bold, serious and playful. It’s an album that warrants re-listening and re-imagining. Most importantly, it suggests something larger than words: that a beautiful, compelling voice, no matter the language or dialect, can be enough to pull two places together.

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