A moving and emotional modern classical classic
Emerging over the years as one of the forerunners of modern classical composition, Olafur Arnald’s blend of warmth, whimsy, comfort and melancholy is what makes him stand out. With his latest album Re:member, he takes his classical compositions towards more of a blustery symphonic electronica vibe at times, but at its core, Arnolds’ potent formula remains.
Opening with the title track, the initial phases of the track are ominous and hazy like you are stretching back in the fog of your mind and around the way halfway mark a chord clarity strikes and a beautiful melody unfurls before you like a road of enlightenment, slowly soaring up through the keys and chords before the drums kick in. It’s euphoric and with it being underscored by the quietest and subtlest electronica beats and clicks, it completely pans out the usual expectations of a classical composer in one track. “Unfold” is another song of two halves with the opening being a relaxing march of wind and string instruments with tricking water in the background that then fades away to allow SOHN’s guest vocals add layers of “ooh”s over the top mimicking the wind instruments. It’s anti-song structure is a welcome turn. The sombre and intimate piano piece of “Saman” is utterly gorgeous too. I love it when you can hear all the creeks and hammers of a piano and this feels like your ears pressed against the muted boards.
The album then places strings towards the fore, firstly with “Brot” which is a mood piece that puffs itself out further and further over its three minutes before “Inconsist” takes the strings to the chilled out beats of symphonic electronica. It’s cinematic sounding as the strings chug to make the happy beat more pointed and pressing but underneath a lazy rolling piano glisten takes the edge of it off. The combo of the two gives off a faced paced slow-mo vibe I adore. It lets you then melt into the sadness of “They Sink” which has a Lisa Germano quality to it. The strings are in a lamenting turmoil but the piano is galloping freely – echoing in the background. Add in the simplest of kick drums and bass bursts and you have a real tear-jerker.
“Ypsilon” places the harp and electronica beats to the fore with an ambient piece that plays with echoing spaces of percussive noises and a repetitive maddening harp underscore. It sounds like your in a cave underground and it blends perfectly into “Partial” where the strings come steaming in to reprise the main motif of the album that’s eluded to several times early on as if we’ve been pulled out of memory fog again and into clarity. Just like before it’s fleeting though as “Momentary” plays out a thoughtful and reflective piano piece. This cyclic approach to the whole album made me think post listening about my own thoughts of trying to remember past emotions, events and the rose-tinted approach we take to yesterday – sometimes we don’t appreciate today because of the yearning for yesterday and I felt like this song cycle was conveying that. Maybe that says more about my mind than Olafur Arnalds but it is an excellent album structure that works as a whole piece as well as individual tracks.
It all culminates in the epically cinematic and euphoric “Undir” where previous motifs explode into a glitchy trip-hop classical fireworks display. It’s still serene and flowing – so don’t expect hardcore basslines but the entire thing feels like your ascending up through the memories and enjoying the jetstream of them as you go. For me “Ekki Hugsa” is what happens when you get there. It’s a simple riff that is expertly merged between electronica synths and acoustic strings. It has a pulsating life to it that sucks you in and its unparalleled joy and abundance will bring a smile to your face. “Nyepi” closes the album on a quieter note with spacious piano and string notes and gentle shimmers of tinkling high note pianos fading in and out. To me this is felt like I could take the memories with me and carry them, bringing them to the fore when I needed to.
Olafur Arnalds has created a deeply personal album with Re:member. Admittedly I’ve spent just as much time explaining how the album made me feel rather than how the album sounds but I think it’s because the music is so expressive and excellent, it made me feel so much that I had to share it. As an electro-classical crossover album, it is superb. If you have any interest in either electronica or classical music you need this album in your life.
Recommended track: Undir
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