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Album Review: An appreciation of Ólafur Arnald’s album, “Island Songs.”

In 2016, Icelandic musical artist, Ólafur Arnald, undertook a seven-week journey across his home country. Arnald stayed in seven different locations all around the island of Iceland, composing a personal and emotional song tied to the history and culture of each location. Additionally, in each location, Arnald collaborated with another Icelandic artist to give a unique sound to each song.

Among the seven creative songs found on the album “Island Songs,” two stand out as stellar compositions. Arnald’s second week took him to the Northwestern peninsula of Iceland, to a small village called Flateyri. In 1995, an unexpected avalanche struck the village, killing many people. A memorial stone sits next to the village church with the names of the villagers who passed away in the tragedy nearly three decades ago. Arnalds partnered with Dagny, a music teacher from the village, to compose the piece 1995 that remembers this tragedy and seeks to honor the lives lost. The story of this piece alone makes it stand out, however, the composition itself features numerous unique instruments and tones that bring out melancholy and remembrance on a scale that has never been achieved before. The second piece in “Island Songs” takes listeners to Arnald’s sixth week where he traveled to the Southwestern end of Iceland, to the community of Garour. For this piece, Particles, Arnald is joined by the lead singer of Of Monsters and Men, Nanna Hilmarsdóttir, a local of the community. The two artists perform in a small lighthouse on the coast and create the only song in the album with English words featured. While other compositions in “Island Songs” stand out with stronger sound, Particles benefits from the extraordinary voice of Nanna and hits each heartstring throughout the piece.

Fascinatingly, even though all of the pieces in “Island Songs” have stories and history behind them that can be found on Olafur Arnald’s website, one of the most interesting parts of this project is the finale. Arnald traveled to seven different locations, but there are eight songs in the album. The album concludes with “Study for Piano Player (II)”; this piece was wholly composed by Arnalds after his seven-week journey, and exhibits the artist’s remarkable talent and passion on the piano. While this album isn’t one full of excitement, many words, or great study beats, it is truly one of the most beautiful works of art created through the medium of music. Ólafur Arnald is most well-known for composing the music for the widely popular BBC drama, “Broadchurch,” but the majority of his work is independent, classically-trained art. I would recommend this beautiful collection of music and stories to those looking for more peaceful or melancholy music, or those who simply need background music while reading. However, for those truly interested in Arnald’s journey, there is a music video for each song in the album that is simply a visual recording of the artists performing the songs. The tone of the music fits perfectly into the visually inciting background that Iceland provides.

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