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  • Writer's pictureAndy Wors

Ólafur Arnalds - 'Island Songs'

It has been particularly remiss of us not to write about Ólafur Arnalds astonishing collection of tracks, written and released over the summer, but in mitigation it all started during our summer vacation. Whilst we won't attempt a full 'review' at this stage, there will be a few people in the UK in particular who won't have come across the releases, so we wanted to make sure we'd at least covered the project, and pointed everyone in the direction of where to get more information.

The idea behind 'Island Songs' has been that Arnalds has written and performed 7 songs across Iceland, with different musicians and in different locations, and those collaborations have released weekly with a video and in depth interview to accompany the song. The results are astonishing, and contain such a breadth of diverse musical inputs, with the final releases works of genuine beauty.

The compositions open with 'Árbakkinn', featuring Einar Georg, a poet and teacher of Icelandic literature, based in the small town of Hvammstangi, and based around a piano (played by Ólafur Arnalds) and a string quartet. It then heads to Önundarfjörður and a collaboration with music teacher Dagný, who plays organ and harmonium in the local churches. Each track is wonderfully thought through, and it is the most outstanding portrait of Icelandic music and their local communities - musicians who perform because of the love of their music.

After 'Raddir' which features the South Iceland Chamber Choir, possibly my favourite track and a lovely collaboration with fellow Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson, Arnalds returns to his early hometown of Mosfellsdalur to record with a recently retired horn player in the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. And then contrasting with that a very special song 'Particles' featuring 'Of Monsters and Men' vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir. It concludes by bringing many of his musician friends together for 'Doria', performed in the Iðnó Concert Hall.

Whilst there is so much I could try and write about, from the stunning videos to the achievement of pulling together such a complex logistical project, my recommendation is to completely immerse yourself in this amazing set of songs, the stories, the places and the visions. There are lots of interesting interviews and reviews online, thoughtful contributions in particular from Arnalds on everything from Icelandic culture to tourism. Start off with the official website at:

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