Anything but cookie-cutter classical music.
When Gabríel Ólafs first wrote his debut album ‘Absent Minded’ he was only 14 years old. Years later and with plenty of experience under his belt, he returns to his original works with a mass of collaborators to rework each and every track into something entirely new.
The list of collaborators is impressive and large. Kelly Moran, Niklas Paschburg, Masayoshi Fujita, Hugar and Katie Buckley are to name but a few of them. Each one brings their own unique feel to a track and often not in the way you’d initially suspect. I’m not usually one to cover reworks or remixes on Higher Plain Music but this album is a special case. Everything feels brand new.
Kelly Moran takes on ‘Think of Home’ transforming this lilting piano and string section into a mirage of windows that trickle like rubbery water drops down your speakers. Known for her prepared piano, this shows she can play with clever synths cinematically and with the best of them. Hugar then takes on a bold brass rendition of ‘Bara’ which is full of heartwarming life and understated beauty. Keeping it understated, Skuli Sverrisson tackles the same song with acoustic guitar and washed out violin bustles to maximum relaxing effect. Masayoshi Fujita then wheels out his vibraphone for a magical rendition of ‘Another Fall, Another Spring’. The juxtaposition of curious and winter glistens is superb here.
‘Loa’, which was already a happy wobble of tuned percussion in its original guise, gets a full-on alt-dance remap with Niklas Paschburg. It sits somewhere between cute Caribbean and Cyberpunk tech – if you can imagine that! On the complete flipside, Bing & Ruth turn the same track into a gestating piano ripple of watercolour ambience. It reminds me so much of Heinali’s more acoustic pieces with the way how the piano caresses you over modular synths – it is sublime. The track ‘Filma’ gets two renditions too. The first is a percussive wheel of noises from Kippi Kaninus that shapeshift from acoustic instruments to highly synth-driven instrumentation. When I first heard it I genuinely had a ‘how did that happen?!’ moment. Isn’t it wonderful when music surprises you? Harpist Katie Buckley then performs a lush yet melancholic rendition of the same piece.
The track that sticks out on its own is the jaunty ‘Cyclists Waltz’ which has been arranged for the accordion. It is a rich and sassy arrangement without ever being overblown. Performer Asta Soffia does a remarkable job. ‘Droplets (variation)’ follows transposing the prepared piano original into a warmer full-bodied version with piano, harp and strings. The album then closes with ‘Staircase Sonata’ which plays with reverses string sounds and warm orgel synths. A blustery lean towards a melody and sound without ever explicitly pointing it out, it is a lovely statement to close the album on as it feels fragmented yet together. I’d imagine that is how creating a collaborative album in 2020 would feel like too.
‘Absent Minded’ was already a stunning album and these reworks are every bit as worthy as the original material. At no point feeling like a retread or just a simple rearrangement, each song feels fresh and new, written from the ground up again. A word to all future collaboration and rework projects – take a look at Gabríel Ólafs’ example to set your benchmark and standard. This is gold.
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