Ólof Arnalds' second album begins with a defiant, deeply Nordic statement of intent: a few couplets of a cappella folk, warbled in Icelandic, followed by a fairytale la-la-la chorus, then some more wonky a cappella. Clearly this isn't a woman compromising her principles in a bid to crack the charts.
The older cousin of classical/electronic artist Ólafur Arnalds, Ólof blipped on a few discerning radars with her sparse debut album Við Og Við, which belatedly emerged in the UK in 2009. It was sung entirely in her native tongue, in a voice she admits can be something of an acquired taste, but also showcased an exquisite grasp of melody.
Innundir skinni - Under the Skin - is a more expansive effort, but retains the rustic, unadorned air of its predecessor. Arnalds' preferred studio method is to record a full live take and the results are more akin to a radio session than the airbrushed, repetitive fare that often occurs when artists spend too long worrying about what their public might think.
True, she does sing a few songs in English this time, but ascribes that to working with more non-Icelandic musicians, notably the former Tom Waits, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson sideman Shahzad Ismaily, who proved an influential presence in the planning stages of this record. The one concession to post-production trickery involved getting her good friend Bjork on board, after Ms Guðmundsdottir had a flash of inspiration while listening to the song Surrender, and decided to add a wonderfully dramatic backing vocal. Well, you wouldn't say no, would you?
Also sung in English is Crazy Car, a jaunty live favourite that becomes a tender duet on record, in conjunction with regular collaborator and compatriot Davið Þor Jonsson. Simple, slightly silly but splendidly affecting, it's a telling suggestion that Arnalds will retain her endearingly obtuse edge, whatever language she favours in future. She's been making audiences sing along to that song for a few years now, and very few can have a clue what the Crazy Car actually refers to. As the Nordic people well know, there's much to be said for being in the dark.
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