Review: Ólöf Arnalds – Sudden Elevation
Published on February 12th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
She’s had Björk’s patronage, been a touring member of múm since 2003, and the success of her 2007 debut Við og Við led to tours with the legendary likes of Jonathan Richman and Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum. This is Ólöf Arnalds’s third album, the first with an English title, and thus concludes the introductory scene-setting – now let’s dig into the music.
Sudden Elevation is a settled, ‘snowy waterside introspection’ sort of album in stark contrast to its title, and opening “German Fields” illustrates what’s in store for more or less the remainder. Arnalds’s sweetly innocent and gently playful vocals sit neatly amidst huffing strings, folkily picked acoustic guitar and light brush drumming, her delicious backing vocals conjuring an air of the magical that brings to mind Joanna Newsom and in parts compatriots Sigur Rós, albeit within more of a traditional pop song structure.
Bitter-sweet folk-pop, you might call it, and though she occasionally sounds like a cat this is somehow entirely forgivable. In other words, you might find yourself wondering whether you find her voice charming or annoying, but the songs are clever and original enough to secure the benefit of the doubt, especially after multiple listens.
“Bright and Still” is a title apt for the imagery conjured by its exquisitely light-of-touch soundtrack, the tremolo on Arnalds’s voice working almost like a musical saw, lines such as “Beauty lies in how you observe things” indicative of her thoughtful, peaceful approach to lyricism (see also: “Let me reassure you that things will turn out better, worse or in unexpected ways” from “A Little Grim” and “I have no valuable things / I travel and sing / And I wander” from “Numbers and Names”). The backing track of “Treat Her Kindly” reminds of Teenage Fanclub circa Howdy! – this is a good thing, in case you were wondering – while “Fear Less” confirms in Rocksucker’s mind that she is at her best when the mystical outweighs the cutesy.
The quiet ‘sunlight on a wall’ quality of the title track is utterly beautiful, as is the softly stirring “Onwards and Upwards”, so there’s plenty to recommend about this. We suspect she’s got even better in her, though.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!