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Ólöf Arnalds, The Slaughtered Lamb | reviews, news & interviews

Ólöf Arnalds, The Slaughtered Lamb

Ólöf Arnalds, The Slaughtered Lamb

An evening of mysterious Icelandic-language reveries

Olof Arnalds: ethereal, sepulchral

Last year’s Vid og Vid (an Icelandic colloquialism for "every now and then"), Ólöf Arnalds’ debut album, attracted some high-profile fans. Fellow Icelander Björk raised the flag on America’s National Public Radio, as did Jonathan Richman who requested that she open the shows during his San Francisco residency last week. Björk has contributed vocals to "Surrender", a cut from Arnalds’ forthcoming album Innundor Skinni (Within the Skin). Another track, one of three in English on Innundor Skinni, is titled "Jonathan" – although there’s no lyrical reference to Richman, it’s an obvious tip of the hat. The reason for their fascination with Arnalds is obvious.

An ex-member of the atmospheric Salvation Army band through-a-badly-tuned-radio collective Mùm, Arnalds’ arrestingly arpeggio-ed take on acoustic music is as delicate as it is affecting. However, the basement of Clerkenwell’s Slaughtered Lamb isn’t a venue that seems immediately right for an evening of mysterious Icelandic-language reveries. Before this low-key solo showcase, Arnalds says “I like playing in pubs, it’s nice when people can sit down in their own place, comfortable. They have the freedom to leave if they don’t want to be here. I like intimate shows as I usually get the most out of it, being on the same level. It’s more difficult to bridge the gap if you’re up on a high stage. But I do like both.”

It’s soon clear how much Arnalds thrives when playing live. Although there’s a furrowed-brow concentration on playing guitar and projecting her crystalline voice, she smiles through her songs. In Icelandic, these are stories that few here understand. But her enjoyment at being on stage shines, carrying the audience along.

Her finger picking creating a round-like effect bedding a vocal that’s ethereal, sepulchral

Her approach to pacing is clearly spontaneous. Beforehand, Arnalds admitted she never compiles a set list – it’s also apparent that the song that follows the last is chosen on the spur of the moment. Although ostensibly promoting Innundor Skinni (see video of title track, below), Arnalds veers off. It’s the birthday of a friend called Emma who’s in the audience. Hence a quick run through of "Happy Birthday". She says her mother was brought up in London and that she recalls a song taught by her. Although half remembered, she knocks out a surprising take of "Come and Join the British Army", most usually associated with The Dubliners. An Icelandic-language version of an Italian song from the Fifties about “a woman who’s praying for her love who is on the sea” is given an outing. Arnalds sees no boundaries in her music – either geographic or stylistic.

Despite missing out forthcoming single "Crazy Car", she does pack in selections from Innundor Skinni. For the skeletal "Surrender" (sung in Icelandic), she picks up a charango – a mandolin-like instrument with an armadillo shell as its body. It’s a mesmerising performance, her finger picking creating a round-like effect bedding a vocal that’s ethereal, sepulchral. On the album she’s joined by Björk who, although in the crowd here, doesn’t jump on stage to break the spell.

Typically, instead of closing the set with something familiar, Arnalds introduces a new song “with no lyric, just melody, let’s see how it goes”. It goes great.

Earlier, she’d said, “I don’t see myself as a folk artist, I write songs and melodies.” And that’s exactly what she’s about: songs and melodies. With nothing forced, the music simply flows.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch "Innundir Skinni" on YouTube

Arnalds sees no boundaries in her music – either geographic or stylistic

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