From Iceland — An Exceptional Anomaly

An Exceptional Anomaly

Published April 13, 2007

An Exceptional Anomaly

There was a fair amount of anticipation on my behalf before Ólöf Arnald’s debut release concert. Ólöf has gotten great reviews for her new album and I had previously seen her warm up for Amiina in concert but this was Ólöf’s night.

From the first tone ringing in my ears I knew this was gonna be a feel-good concert. The band, consisting of many of Iceland’s best musicians, was more than formidable playing all kinds of instruments I won’t bother to name. Ólöf began singing in Icelandic in a raw, folksy Joan Baez style and the Icelandic language has never sounded so good. Few would describe Ólöf as singing like an angel, but if I had an angel in a cage I’d want him to sound just like her. Beauty is not in perfection but in an exceptional anomaly. Ölöf also proved quite humorous on stage. She kept forgetting to introduce Arnljótur Sigurðsson, a competent young bass player who filled in for the ex-Blonde Red Head (now bald) Skúli Sverrisson.

Ólöf played beautiful heart-warming songs, such as the lullaby Go to Sleep, and while my body felt sleepy my soul felt uplifted. Ólöf has a unique voice that is always on the verge of breaking, which, for those who don’t follow music, is a good thing. Ólöf’s greatest strength is the combination of Icelandic folk music and traditional oriental music. Playing the Koto harp she taps into something foreign that is nevertheless so close to us.

The low point of the concert was a Megas cover, which, besides being a cliché and an easy and tasteless way out, it was so slow and pretentious that even a few members of Múm thought it was pretentious. Actually, that’s a lie, but that would be funny. The high point of the night was when Ólöf gave her guitar player a guitar tuning lesson on stage proving she’s a real person and a damn good guitar player as well. The brass and sting sections accompanying Ólöf sounded really good. Ólöf sang about peace in one of her lyrics, which coincidently was the feeling lingering inside me for most of the show.

I really liked all the songs apart from the Megas cover and when she started singing Lalalalala, I knew she was a real artist singing from her soul and not her mind. I don’t trust artists who never sing lalalala because human emotion is often too magnificent to be reduced to manmade concepts. Everybody gets the lalalala feeling now and again; and those who don’t have never fully lived.

The last song of the night was a cover of Johnny Cash’s That Lucky Old Sun. Some people might have found the context weird when Ólöf was singing the words of a depressed cowboy but I felt it was a postmodern masterpiece. It was strange, it was exciting, it was something special adding to Iceland’s musical history. Ólöf got a standing ovation and deserved it. Her voice and Koto harp may well touch people’s hearts for a long time.

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