Eulogy For Evolution 2017 by Ólafur Arnalds

Release date: August 25, 2017
Label: Erased Tapes

“My heart is quite calm now. I will go back”

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

2017 marks the ten year anniversary of Erased Tapes. A record label famed for not allowing modern classical music to slip into a fetid wasteland where it is considered too pop for the classical crowd and too classical for pop audiences. Ten years ago they also released the debut album from a sprightly, twenty years young, composer named Ólafur Arnalds. Here we are, a decade hence, with a thirty year old artist surveying, reconsidering, and reflecting on his earliest work. With time comes new skills, new tastes, new understandings and all of these have been brought into play whilst pondering his emotional, embryonic creations. Viewed through a lens less tinted by rose but, perhaps, more carefully drawn into focus.

From the opening notes of ‘0040’ it is clear that this record has been beefed up and provided with a little more space to manoeuvre. The notes now seem to ring out across a palatial hall and there are little sonic spectres which haunt the background. The piano sounds grander, somehow sadder, and imbued with a melancholy which belies Ólafur’s age at the time of initial recording.

Across these tracks a dynamism is apparent which gives credence and weight to the initial concept – a cyclical consideration of life and death. Tender ivory tinkles ring out like the echo of a distant star’s glint and then bone-shuddering cello and dramatic chords thump downwards with aplomb. The slashing violin strings on ‘1953’ now resemble a butterfly with razor-blade wings: concurrently violent and fragile. And ‘3055’ has been decked out with thuds which reverberate as if distant cannon fire.

The transitions also seem smoother and the piano tone less spiky. Notes have been softened and rounded and there is less competition for headroom. Oddly this evolution does result in some of the sounds appearing a little icy, as if some of the warmth of the original recording has leaked out. Still, by the time that the rambunctious crescendo of ‘3704/3837’ roars into place, replete with tumbling post-rock beats and a glitchy fade out, all souls and hearts have been suitably stirred and filled respectively.

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