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  • David Bentley

Ólafur Arnalds – 'We Contain Multitudes' (single from new album, 'Some kind of peace', November 6th)

Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds has released two tracks now from his forthcoming album, of which this is the most recent. The album will feature his companions Bonobo, Josin, and JFDR, who was on the previous single ‘Back to the Sky’ but not on this one.

On the album Arnalds, a perfectionist, grapples with the more trying realities of everyday life: the possibilities of love, of settling down, and how to navigate all of that during a global pandemic (the album was half-written prior to lockdown, and completed at Arnalds' harbour studio in downtown Reykjavik). It is a record about letting your guard down, and ultimately what it means to be alive.

In Arnalds' own words, ‘We Contain Multitudes’ “Was written at a friend's cabin in a jungle, late at night, on a tiny electric keyboard. At the time I had spent so much time away from what I had considered home, almost setting up a separate life on the other side of the planet. My mind was going through a process of learning to live in two vastly different cultures, of recognising that within one body there are multitudes of different and often contradictory facets of personality. The song remains a reminder that our minds are not constants, the self is ever evolving."

That’s deep stuff and Arnalds’ evolution is monumental. He started out writing compositions for a German metal band, before supporting Sigur Rós. His 2007 debut album documented life’s journey from birth to death, with projects ever since ranging from 2016’s ‘Island Songs’ (seven songs made in seven different Icelandic towns, in seven days) to forming one-half of the experimental techno duo, Kiasmos. And that’s just the half of it; too much to document here.

In this video he performs the song live from his home. I’m not sure if the concept of learning to live in two different cultures comes across in this gentle keyboards piece. What I do hear is this. Some musicians have the ability to identify different notes as colours; synesthesia as it is called. I don’t.

But I can relate pieces of music to pieces of film, TV, even adverts. What I hear would be a perfect soundtrack for that moment in ‘Contact’ when astronaut Jodie Foster meets her dead father on what appears to be a beautiful Thai beach. You can easily find it on YouTube. Of course neither are real, they’ve been ‘imagined’ by the aliens she’s gone to meet to make her feel at home, just as the Dining Room was imagined by our ‘creators’ for Dave Bowman’s last meal as a mere human in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Foster’s beach and her father are just holograms.

I can’t pay it a better compliment than that.

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