There’s a scene in Todd Hayne’s I’m Not There where Julianne Moore plays a particularly impassioned Joan Baez-like folk singer staring at the world in a haze. The shot in the film is directed out at the audience with the peculiar visionary stare that Ms. Beaz made so popular. The passion or almost rapture that Greenwich Village’s folkies brought out seems like a distant memory today. It’s a little shocking, though, to see someone of our contemporary era given license to emulate a peroid so tumultuous yet so creative. The seriousness of the Villages’ politics and the zeal which their folk troubadours enunciated such values has rattled and rolled folk music ever since. Such a face became the image of folk and those trapped between the Pacific and Atlantic heard little of Bert Jansch, Anne Briggs (who might have been more impassioned than even Ms. Baez), and others in Europe’s folk movement.
Ólöf Arnalds, an Icelandic woman, is helping to bring such a face of folk forward. Her peculiar vision of folk shares qualities with Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, but where Newsom leaves room in her lyrical mansions for contemplation, Arnalds fills a song with her unique qualities. “Vinkonur” sounds startlingly like Newsom’s work, only Arnalds’ voice is tempered in remarkably different ways. Her lyrics are the song’s center, and the compositions don’t diddle; these are songs cut with the precision of a rock band. ”Jonathan” is all meadows and springs, bells perk up, refrains climb flowered hills, and Arnalds isn’t going to let anything spoil her mood in this spare four minutes of splendor.
Arnalds also dispenses with the necessity of English: in her lips, Icelandic is a language that’s accented vowels and rumbling consonants produce cadences that English’s brutish puritanical lips can not imagine. It is a language that desires in smoke trails, that’s octaves tear at the listener in beautiful refrains, that’s very waveform suggests liberties the American accent ignores. It just sounds cool and, at times, the foreign tongue and pentangle instrumentation really do sound like a Harry Smith European folk anthology.
Arnalds’ instrumentation is more straight ahead than Newsom’s. These songs aren’t tapestries with secret rooms rather like Anne Briggs; Arnalds prefers a more straight ahead approach. The songs all seem to lead back into her gaze – they need her. Innundir Skinni is, in general, a needy album: it needs you attention, it needs your love, it needs you to listen to each and every song with rapt attention. While a few of these numbers, such as “Crazy Car,” could be cut, the album as a whole is a sonic world that simplifies many of the complications found in folk in the past few years.
Touches of Nick Drake drift through these songs; film soundtracks are made but the images are lost, snow falls in this forest, things get dark, the gates open, we ride unicorns through the snow, it is a wonderland. What made emo not work was the waiting, it was that the songs needed patience, but Arnalds’ folk can make two minutes of wordless wonder into a slow progression leaving you wanting more. Patience is a virtue in her music. The success of Newsom and Banhart will bring to light others in their scene, but Ólöf Arnalds does make her jewels precious if not as jarring as her genre’s leaders.Visit: Ólöf Arnalds | One Little Indian
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