If flowers could sing, they would sound like Ólöf Arnalds. That voice, both earthy and unearthly, carries itself as gracefully through Sudden Elevation as wind through petals. Being Icelandic, she naturally puts an uncommon rhythm to English words, but it’s the expressive texture of her voice itself that forms the heart of her songs. Whether she is posed against herself in a glorious choir (as in “German Fields,” “A Little Grim,” and “Perfect”) or open and alone (as in “The Joke” and “Onwards And Upwards”), the effect is utterly enthralling.
The closest comparison that springs to mind is the rich timbre of Joanna Newsom’s voice, placed in Vashti Bunyan’s rosy countryside. However, Arnalds’ songwriting is singular, her lyricism more close and candid as her music mixes simplicity and ornateness.
“Fear Less” and “Treat Her Kindly” function as friendly counsel, “Bright And Still” as a pure expression of love, “Numbers And Names” as a personal credo. The most affecting, however, are her reflections on lost love, the bittersweet “A Little Grim” and “Return Again.” The second nearly sounds like a hymn—there is something sacred in the way Arnalds extends the words, draped over the melody. This cadence also emerges in “Call It What You Want,” which is a bit more cheerful but no less poignant.
If there is a weakness, it is in the sequencing. While the first three tracks (the aforementioned “German Fields,” “Bright And Still,” and “Return Again”) are the most noteworthy, the record seems to lose a bit of steam towards the end, as “The Joke” and “Onwards And Upwards” slide on by.
But Sudden Elevation is, to quote the title-track, “sometimes lonely, sometimes sweet.” Though it walks through moments of darkness and uncertainty in the middle, it begins and ends with equally heavenly refrains, filled with sublimely interwoven vocals and splashes of sun. It is achingly clear that Arnalds’ talent extends far beyond simply having a unique sound to create something full and shimmering.
In A Word: Radiant