The first time I heard Ólöf Arnalds play live was at the Aldrei fór ég suður music festival in 2010. Though I had been a fan since first hearing ‘Við og við’ when it came out in 2007, I was not instantly taken by her live performance. It quickly dawned on me, however, that it was the situation and not the performer. Her light, delicate vocals and down to earth presence were somehow awkward in the rocky, claustrophobic crowd in Ísafjörður and it was that which made me feel a bit indifferent about her set there, rather than her performance as such.
Remembering this first impression made me realise how appropriate a venue Café Flora is for the Ólöf Arnalds Sumarsólstöður concert series, held in celebration of the summer solstice. With her voice warbling, bird-like amongst the flowers, lucent in evening sunlight, it seemed as though this music was meant to be heard amidst the greenery and life of the Grasagarður botanical garden. There was a moment where I could hear birds chiming in, singing in the trees outside and there was a feeling of almost unbelievable synchronicity. It was almost too well timed.
In this atmosphere there was a natural quality to the show; a quietness in the air not usually found in a concert. To call it exciting would be way off the mark, but despite a lack of ‘action’ there was a definite pulse amongst us. It must be the always-complementary combination of music and plant life, or something.
In matters more musical, Ólöf played a good mixture of old and new material, giving us a taste of her upcoming album ‘Sudden Elevation,’ which is due out in autumn. But she also played old favourites, like ‘Klara,’ in honour of her sister, which always makes me a bit misty, and ‘Englar og dárar’ about none other than her venerable accompanist Skúli Sverrisson on bass.
Her performance style and interaction with the crowd had a comfortable, off-the-cuff feeling. Though she was dressed head to foot in sparkling sequins and beads, there was no diva in her. It was just two old friends, playing to a crowd. No drama, just midsummer sunshine.
If her performance on Friday night is anything to judge by, ‘Sudden Elevation’ promises to be in a similar vein to her two previous full-length albums. They can best be described as filigree folk (yes, that is a made up genre), with her delicate guitar and ethereal voice winding together to create something dreamy, yet somehow earthbound. All in all, ‘Sudden Elevation’ is something to look forward to.
Sumarsólstöður is a follow up to a winter solstice concert series she did, which I didn’t see. If the atmosphere in the murky depths of winter is anything like the quiet calm, which prevailed in Café Flora, then the midwinter equivalent will definitely be worth checking out.