Sudden Elevation may be Icelander Ólöf Arnalds’ third album, but it remains a landmark, being her first sung wholly in English. For this I’m awkwardly grateful as reviewing it is my first encounter with her otherworldly brand of folk. However, as a latecomer I find myself trailing behind an influential admirer of Arnalds who has already hit upon the perfect description of her work. When Björk (who duetted with her on Innundir Skinni track ‘Surrender’) said her innocent yet wise songs belonged to one ‘somewhere between a child and an old woman’, she nailed it. Be that as it may, there’s still plenty to take in here with the lovely Ólöf blending bright splashes of poetry in her intense yet graceful tunes.
Arnalds’ choice to walk an all-English path, strumming her charango as she goes, comes as great news in terms of opening up her talent to new perspectives. As she has pointed out, this is also the first album she has completed from an uninterrupted recording session, lending its songs the sense of being drawn as one from a clear pool of inspiration.
The way that her voice sits within the music gives the album a charming, up-in-the-mountains freshness. The exotic warble of Arnalds’ high notes is unlike anything to be heard on a Saturday night television contest, particularly in playful opener ‘German Fields’. Further highlights include ‘Return Again’, a pretty if sad number that plucks the heartstrings, whereas ‘Treat Her Kindly’ has — perhaps expectedly — a reflective, earnest quality. Right in the middle of the album, ‘A Little Grim’ features a beautiful layered-voice part, giving this delicate song a choral, fairytale air. Arnalds’ musical upbringing shines throughout the record, which is inventive, emotional and at all times done in her unique way. Such sincerity and impulsiveness make Sudden Elevation an appealing collection of songs.
This is a satisfying album and whilst Arnalds will doubtless carry on recording and performing in her mother tongue, there is much here to suggest she will be just as successful when she next ventures into English. Her flowing lyrics spring from joyous experimentation, as is so often found when an artist is creating with the freedom that comes with writing in a different language. What is more, Arnalds looks set to continue to inspire as she explores her magical, eerily uplifting creative niche.
Release Date 04/02/2013 (One Little Indian)