Ólafur Arnalds is a young Icelandic pianist and composer from the small town of Mosfellsbær, just to the north of Reykjavik and home to Sigur Rós’s studios. His music has a melodic richness coupled with a quiet melancholy that has echoes of the work of Max Richter and his compatriot Jóhann Jóhannsson. Variations of Static lies somewhere between and EP and an LP, a twenty minute collection of five pieces for piano and string quartet, with a certain amount of electronic jiggery-pokery added for good measure.
Lead track “Fok” is the most upbeat and immediately accessible of the five – almost like an A side in fact. The others form a deeply sad suite that sounds like an elegy. A computerized voice pops up on a couple of pieces. Like on Jóhannsson’s IBM 1401, this is machinery with a soul and with a resigned sense of its own mortality:
Do you still remember when we were little?
We were playing in the park,
And you asked me what happens when you die.
I said you forget everything…everything.
‘Even you?’ you asked.
Yes, even me.
You did not want to die. Never forget.
The remains of what we used to have were taken away with the softest squeeze.
How did I forget? How…
For some reason, these words to the final track “Himininn er að hrynja en stjörnurnar fara þér vel” (which roughly translates as ‘Even though the skies are falling, the stars are still beautiful’) are crushingly sad coming from a computer generated voice.
Variations of Static is a remarkable work. As a bonus, the CD comes with a download code that allows you to get an eleven track Erased Tapes sampler album for free.
1 Fok 4:29
2 Við vorum smá… 2:22
3 Haust 5:28
4 Lokaðu augunum 3:45
5 Himininn er að hrynja en stjörnurnar fara þér vel 5:37
“Himininn er að hrynja en stjörnurnar fara þér vel” performed live in December 2007.