Review Summary: Olafur Arnalds escapes the weight of darkness, only to completely forget who he is.
Icelandic contemporary musician, Olafur Arnalds, has captured the hearts of people the world over with his captivating brand of minimalist compositions. However, with this dedicated crowd comes a fair share of detractors, denouncing the artist’s craft as mere fluff; contrived songs which aim to be beautiful for the sake of being beautiful and lacking true musicianship. And while Arnalds has done quite a bit in his short career to prove those sentiments wrong, it appears his latest release plays into the role that his critics have been making for him all along.
Where last year’s Living Room Songs
saw Arnalds at his most poetic and emotive, the soundtrack to Another Happy Day
feels completely without a voice. This truly feels like Arnalds on autopilot, going through the motions as if to feign emotions and ideas that he himself does not believe in. It works on the level that most of these pieces sound nice
, but rarely do they ever ascend to anything greater. It’s logical really, so that the music can fit into the confines of a film, but on a deeper level a lot has been sacrificed.
For those accustomed with the artist’s work, Another Happy Day
should feel rather familiar. Arnalds, as always, finds comfort in his more minimalist outings, with the soundtrack being his most “no frills” release to date. Much of the record is spent coaxing the notes out of a few instruments, with sparse piano chords and lonesome violins filling the glut of the album. “Alice Enters” is a prime example of this, as not much fills the empty space aside from the rigid notes of the piano and stringed instruments. “A Family Stroll” and “Before the Calm” fall into this trap as well, mixing up only the backing atmosphere to give the songs their own identity. On the surface this appears to be what Arnalds has always excelled at, but even his bolder songs lack the emotional punch that has been so pervasive in his work. Most odd, however, is that Arnalds has decided to copy a surprising amount of material, even going so far as to redo an entire song with “Autumn Day.” These sections do not take too much away, but the lack of fresh ideas is certainly disappointing.
Another Happy Day
is not so far gone that it is without merit. Much of the record feels flat, vapid, and without genuine artistic direction, but moments of genius do in fact rear their heads. “Everything Must Change” is one of the most bizarre songs that Arnalds has ever created, and easily one of his best. It’s a menacing track with short, curt violin strike that creates a feeling of tension throughout. The added electronic elements add a nice layer of depth, while the entire song makes several unpredictable transitions.
The score to Another Happy Day
is not a shining example of Olafur Arnalds’ musical ingenuity, nor is it an absolute failure. As a soundtrack, it works. Moody music fills the background, and in that respect it is largely a success. Yet as a standalone listen, the record is a weak and almost slap-dash display, with Arnalds feeling regrettably uninspired. For fans this may be enough, but most will pass this off as another silly “neo-classical” folly.