Review Summary: We too shall rest.
Nobody would blame Olafur Arnalds for being tired. In the last five years, the Icelandic composer has released five EPs and two full-lengths, scored three films and toured relentlessly across the globe. And while all he’s created has been pretty enough, his most recent projects have felt pretty uninspired. If Arnalds were to falter, it’d be unsurprising for the event to occur on the verge of all this activity. But For Now I Am Winter
is a true gem, and easily the most cutting-edge album of the musician's career.
For Now I Am Winter
is a tangible representation of throwing paint against a wall, and seeing what sticks. The album is full-fledged sonic experimentation at its finest, mostly because Olafur Arnalds adds vocals to the mix, a la his musical neighbor Arnór Dan. Nobody expected the transition to be perfectly smooth, either: there were bound to be some bumps in the road as the Icelandic musician adjusts his timbre a bit. The addition is mostly welcomed, though, because the vocals add an active energy to the mostly cyclical melodies. The standout example “Old Skin” just wouldn’t be the same without its vocals, which emphasize the musical shifts and give them pivotal meaning. The song’s stark redress half-way through wouldn’t be as memorable without Dan’s singing, and its buildup that hints at a stylistic switch. And the album's greatest moment comes with the singer's cry of "We too shall rest," in a serene falsetto that perfectly captures the goal for which the entire album's aiming.
Elsewhere, though, the newly implemented vocals don’t carry as much weight as they’d like. To put it simply, there are times where they serve little purpose. “For Now I Am Winter” actually would hold just as much weight without the sung refrain, and may even be more enjoyable with an instrumental emphasis. And for every time the vocals shouldn’t exist, there’s another time in which they would make the instrumental tracks more definitively enjoyable. See, the issue is that the songs lacking vocals still feel built for a lead melody. When it doesn’t come, the track merely exists, unable to make any lasting impression on the listener. Fortunately, Arnalds has made some instrumental gems to dilute the more forgettable tracks. “Hands, Be Still” is just as delicate as its title, with syncopated echoes giving way to one of the most serene tracks in the musician’s discography. It seems Ólafur has learned something vital from this album, the fact that his music will be powerful as long as it maintains some sense of direction.
What makes For Now I Am Winter
different from its predecessors is its vibrant hues. No longer are we dealing with the grayscale ambiance that comprised most of ...And They Have Escaped...
, either. No, Arnalds’ latest deals with more vivid colors, from cerulean seas to blonde sheens of sunlight. And part of this stems from the composer instilling a sense of purpose to his work. There’s a light to guide Ólafur Arnalds’ music now, and it's allowing him to escape the darkness in a way he'd never quite imagined.