There has been a swell of European modern classical composers over the last couple of years and Snorri Hallgrimsson enters the classical arena with his debut album “Orbit” and sets out his stool as a composer that deals with minimal, heartfelt and spacious compositions. You need to be able to appreciate that the art of the music here is to point towards a feeling rather than shove it down your throat.
“Still Life” opens the album with a lilting soundtrack of soft string notes. Throughout the whole album, the strings which form the main instrument of choice for Snorri will never contort of stress – they will always carve out space for you to think. The other standout attribute is Snorri’s use of industrial percussion and electronic beats. It creates a growling undertow throughout the album, one that’s more prominent in “Homeless” that follows as is ticks like a clock, scrapes like a beasts claw and beats like a heart at the same time. It’s cleverly done to add a mechanical foreboding but the strings, piano, light atmospherics and Hallgrimsson’s sublime voice sooth you at the same time. Snorri’s vocals throughout the album are beautiful – always hushed, almost choir-like but with a weary tone. He sounds like he is watching events unfold from a higher point of view and that’s added by the way the strings are always in a lush, drawn-out soundscape. “I Know You’ll Follow” is a piano, string and vocal lament that you’d get in a dark European musical. It would perfectly suit something like Pan’s Labrinth and the mixture of minor keys and chords rolling around whilst the strings accompany a soft hum of voice is devasting.
Title track “Orbit” is a percussive track where the vocals take centre stage for most of it. Hallgrimsson’s voice is doubled up and he sounds like Anthony and the Johnsons, which is no bad thing against a bleak backdrop. “…og minning þín rís hægt” is a reflective minimal piano piece of tiny pitter patters of keys and a stark contrast to “The Unfortunate Fortunate” which is an electronica Bjork track waiting to explode initially but just when it sounds like Snorri’s about drop the biggest industrial dance track of the year, it transitions. The rest of the track is slow unravelling of piano notes and voice that recovers its warmth like it’s drinking a phoenix down and recovering health slowly. The big epic six minutes of “Be Still, My Tongue” is the sweeping grande track of the album, in the context of everything here at least. It has some gorgeous sections of instrument interplay before climaxing into an electronica beat piece. The album itself closes with the restoring choir piece ” Týnd er tunga þín” which has the softest and lowest coo of a choir I’ve heard in years. It feels so warm and calming with just a single slowly played viola scoring over the top. It literally washes you anew. There are bonus instrumental tracks of “Still Life” and “Homeless” as well.
Originally I found the album slightly difficult to get into because I wasn’t in the right headspace. I played it during a busy work commute hoping it would give me a space to be calm but instead of finding calm, I found a deep current of sorrow and a depth I wanted to discover alone, with the lights off and just let it flow into your ears. It was then it connected with me – and I could appreciate what “Orbit” is all about. I took it out on my commute to work today and having had that moment with it (as trite and silly as that sounds but people who fall head first into an album will possibly understand what I mean), I could then find that solace I wanted on first listen to shut out the busy bustle of London. “Orbit” is a great album and needs a slice of quiet time to really sink your teeth into it. Give it that moment, and you won’t regret what it gives you back.
Recommended track: I Know You’ll Follow