tue 26/09/2017

Reissue CDs Weekly: Ólafur Arnalds | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Ólafur Arnalds

Reissue CDs Weekly: Ólafur Arnalds

The ‘Broadchurch’-soundtracking Icelander’s first album ‘Eulogy For Evolution’ gets a makeover

It was ten years ago: Ólafur Arnalds in 2007, at the time of the release of ‘Eulogy For Evolution’

We’ve been here before. Not to exactly the same territory, but to a neighbouring space in the same time frame. Last year, theartsdesk looked at a reissue of 2007’s Room to Expand, the first widely available album by the minimalist pianist Hauschka. The album’s reappearance was a moment to reflect on Nils Frahm, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Christian Wallumrød, some of Hauschka’s fellow travellers in the inelegantly tagged post-classical groundswell, all of whom first attracted widespread attention a decade ago. Also mentioned in that review was Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds. Now, his debut album Eulogy For Evolution has been reissued. It was also released during that pivotal year, 2007.

Nowadays, Arnalds is closer to whatever counts as the mainstream than ever. His work with Kiasmos, an on-off electro-techno project, has had no effect on this trajectory. With its waves of minimalist crescendos – a tautology, but this is what characterises his compositions – and whether played solo at a piano, orchestrated or performed with a chamber group, his music is always impactful. In 2014, he was awarded a BAFTA for his soundtrack music to Broadchurch. In 2012, he signed with the multi-national corporate label Universal’s Mercury Classics imprint. Back in 2007, Arnalds was on the independent Erased Tapes label.

Ólafur Arnalds Eulogy For Evolution 2017The arrival of a 10th-anniversary version of Eulogy For Evolution on Erased Tapes is no surprise. But those looking to track back to the earliest entry in Arnalds’ solo discography should be aware this is not a straight reissue. It is not what was released in 2007. In its new cover (pictured right) and spiffy packaging with 2007-vintage photographs, the appropriately retitled Eulogy For Evolution 2017 is not just a remastered version of the album. It is also freshly remixed.

Little needs saying about the wonderful music heard on Eulogy For Evolution beyond noting that it is a deeply affecting suite setting solo piano off against strings, swelling orchestration and intense, almost-metal sigur rós-style climaxes. The trigger, in 2005, for writing what became the album was the death of the then 18-year-old Arnalds’ uncle. The music seeks to trace the circle of life.

Explaining the rationale behind the aural modifications, Arnalds has said “There was noise in the microphones, some channels seemed accidentally muted, but sometimes I found myself admiring what my teenage self was capable of. It was somehow charming. Well, most of it. So I fixed the stuff that wasn’t before sending it off to Nils Frahm for remastering. This work by a highly emotional teenager has been revived, matured and, I hope you’ll agree, improved”

Ólafur Arnalds Eulogy For EvolutionThere is an inherent unease associated with encountering any recording modified post-facto to help it reach the market once again. It doesn’t matter if it’s the recent version of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s, the archive tracks which Beach House rejigged on the recent compilation of their’s covered by theartsdesk or Arnalds, history is being rewritten.

Its smart new packaging aside, Eulogy For Evolution 2017 does differ from the original album (pictured above left). While unlikely that reverb was added wholesale during the December 2005 to March 2006 recording sessions, the redux has less of a live in-the-room feel. It is also warmer sounding, less toppy, more balanced and in line with the sound of a major label recording. The mid-range has been fattened, possibly by removing digital compression. When it comes to the coruscating rock aspects (for example: 45 seconds into “3704 / 3837”), the guitars have been brought forward and the orchestration mixed back to create a greater contrast between these connected yet discrete instrumental elements of the piece.

If heard cold, Eulogy For Evolution 2017 would not raise eyebrows. It sounds cohesive. But still, history has been noticeably tinkered with and, audibly, this is not what was originally issued.

In whatever form it appears though, Eulogy For Evolution is a magnificent album. The original has not been deleted, is still available on CD and vinyl from Erased Tapes and can be easily found by anyone interested in hearing Arnalds as he was when his first record was released.

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