Ólafur Arnalds has steadily built a reputation as one of the world’s most bright and able young composers. Purveying a neo-classical style with an array of influences which range from electronica to minimalism, he is an artist who draws from a variety of sources whilst maintaining his own unique sound. Since the release of his 2007 debut, Eulogy for Evolution, the 26-year-old Icelander from Mosfellsbær, a small-town suburb of Reykjavik, has put his name to a variety of projects. The accompanying small-scale live shows have taken him across Europe, North America and to China, and are where the intimacy of Arnalds’ performance and personality shine through. 2013 brings the release of his third full-length studio album, For Now I Am Winter; which is a categorical side-step away from the sound he is best known for.
There can be little doubt that the recent and rapid progression of Arnalds’ career has hastened his development both as a composer and as a figure of renown, and the increasing variety of his work has clearly been an aid. Since 2009 he has scored films and TV shows including Another Happy Day, ITV’s upcoming drama Broadchurch and the Vanessa Hudgens-starring feature film Gimme Shelter, as well as having tracks feature on the soundtracks to Hollywood hits The Hunger Games and Looper. There have also been two free EPs each composed in a week; Found Songs in 2009 and Living Room Songs in 2011. Both of these collections featured works written and recorded in a day, the former innovatively released through Twitter and the latter released to his fans with accompanying videos through his social media channels and website.
The combination of all of the above has helped Arnalds find his own space in a scene which spans a great deal of the musical landscape, from the ambient works of Max Richter to the expansive soundscapes of his countrymen in Sigur Rós and the neo-classical compositions of Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Similarly, collaborations and side projects – as the electronica-based Kiasmos with Janus Rasmussen, with Nils Frahm in making the EP Stare, or with choreographer Wayne McGregor on his ballet Dyad 1909 – allow a fresh inlet for ideas from artists across various genres, something he thrives off. “I think it’s absolutely necessary. If you never work with anyone else you have no-one to learn from.” Evidently Arnalds is an artist who is wary of becoming stuck in familiar processes, as For Now I Am Winter’s backstory shows.
The foremost and most striking aspect of For Now I Am Winter is just how much more immediate and bold it is in comparison to previous records. Where the piano-led pieces of his most recent studio album, …and they have escaped the weight of darkness, thrive on slow-paced and slow-burning set-ups, here we are furnished with compositions more complex in make-up. On past outings the basis was almost always piano and strings with electronic embellishments merely skirting the periphery. Now the dynamic has shifted. Yet, in some ways the final product is more structurally conventional, with Arnalds thinking in terms decidedly more poppy than before.