Erased Tapes – 25th August
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds’ debut LP, Eulogy for Evolution. While the majority of Western Europe was caught up in the repetitive vowel sounds of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ and the doo-wop melodies of Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’ in 2007, Arnalds was busy forging his own instrumental palette, combining a neo-classical ambience with luscious string lines, loops, and electronics.
Originally starting out as a drummer in hardcore bands, Arnalds’ experience writing instrumental intros and outros for German metal band Heaven Shall Burn led to his first taste of classical composition. At a similar time, Robert Raths was founding his label Erased Tapes, a community-focused effort to put out experimental instrumental music, and one which has now become synonymous with the classical-electronic sound of Arnalds, Nils Frahm, and A Winged Victory For The Sullen. As one of the first releases on Erased Tapes, Arnalds’ Eulogy for Evolution is a refreshingly mature debut, especially since it was written while Arnalds was only a teenager. Informed by the recent death of his uncle, the record is a sonic homage to the circle of existence, taking the listener from birth through death in its eight numerically labelled tracks, replete with emotive string swells and Arnalds’ signature plaintive piano playing.
Opener ‘0040’ sets the scene with its counterpoint strings, leading into a rhythmic solo Chopin-style piano – one of Arnalds’ formative influences. The meditative, cinematic sweep continues throughout the record, owing largely to Arnalds’ masterful string arrangements, acting almost as melodic vocal accompaniment to counter-balance the bare piano in tracks like ‘0048/0729’ and ‘1440’. In this 2017 edition, each track has been remastered by Arnalds’ label-mate Nils Frahm and remixed by Arnalds himself, creating a richer listening experience, bringing said strings and piano to the fore at each opportune moment, while maintaining the atmospherics of the original.
What is remarkable about Eulogy for Evolution is how contemporary it still sounds. While peers like Frahm may have moved further into the electronic field, Arnalds proves his masterly compositional skills and capacity to induce imaginative and emotive responses in even the most casual of listeners. The minor-led crescendos of ‘1953’, for instance, evoke simultaneous joy, apprehension, and melancholy, and it is in this snapshot of the past that we can still hear the insistence of Arnalds’ intent today.