Last updated on November 3, 2020
It’s been a bit of a trope to say that the work that artists are putting out this year reflects our current conditions. Art often (always?) reflects the world around it. In times of prominent upheaval, it feels like everyone should and can say something about the conditions we are all experiencing. (I don’t think you have to, it just feels like that.)
Regardless of my thoughts on making big statements, Ólafur Arnalds‘ some kind of peace is another record written during, about, and for the times of COVID-19. some kind of peace wants to offer the titular gift to everyone listening to it who has gone through this chaotic year together, and Arnalds succeeds in this endeavor.
Arnalds’ detailed, delicate work is primarily for strings, piano, and electronics, and that remains true here. “Spiral” is a slowly-building piece that grows from a single string melody to a fully-developed piece with piano, counterpoint cello melody, electronic background sounds, and delicate processed keys. It’s peaceful yet weighty–not overbearing but yet still sturdy and real. “Still _ Sound” and “New Grass” are even more relaxed, providing a beautiful four minutes of overlapping, legato strings and hushed piano. “Woven Song” includes found sounds of nature in its mix to further evoke peace and calm.
While Arnalds does not usually work with his own voice, it’s the tracks that have vocals in them that are most memorable here. One of the most directly electronic works is opener “Loom (feat. Bonobo),” which uses static; odd, fractured arpeggiator patterns; Sigur Ros-esque vocal modulation (or something that sounds like it); pattering piano; and deep bass to create a whirling, twirling sonic world. Equally electronic is the clattering “Back to the Sky (feat. JFDR),” which features a evocative, powerful performance from the vocalist.
Josin’s whispery voice lends intimacy to the romantic, hold-me-close feel of “The Bottom Line,” as she calls the listener to wake up and go out in the world. The subtle electronic beat here pushes the song forward, mirroring the call of the lyrics in the call of the muted-but-pulsing beat to get up and get going. The swelling musical drama of “Undone” is matched by a dramatic reading of a poem/statement about the difficulty and pain of being born, ending with the statement “it’s just the beginning.” The music grows to about the same intensity and volume of “Spiral,” then delicately winds away, closing the album.
While there’s some diversity in the sonic spaces that Arnalds creates here, his goal of peace (somehow) is ultimately achieved. I’ve mentioned individual tracks of the record, but it’s really best taken as a single, long composition. some kind of peace is a beacon of calm in the midst of this chaotic year, a soothing balm for the weary heart in need of some temporary rest.