Re:member, the newest release from Icelandic composer/multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds, is a record comprised of cinematic wisps tenuously grasping the bittersweet dreaminess of nostalgia, gazing out the window as your memories wash away in trickles of rain.
Olafur Arnalds’ primary instrumental arrangements consist of piano and strings, evocative of the cold Icelandic isolation that is felt throughout the music of related artists such as the late Johann Johansson or Sigur Ros. However, the isolation doesn’t feel like dreadful existential isolation, but rather a deep loving connection, a desired oneness with the beauty of the world.
The songs on Re:member are often fleshed out with electronic beats, giving body to what is otherwise pure ethereal substance, taking music for airports and making it music for car commercials. The album is at its most moving and effective in its sparser moments, such as the title track and particularly on my personal favorite “Brot”. These are moments when your heart can be flooded with love for the world, in moments like staring at a plastic bag in the wind. “Brot” is the only track to use strings exclusively, and their shimmer can bring tears to your eyes. “They Sink” and “Nyepi” stand as good examples of piano/string duets, decorated nicely at times with ambient soundscapes.
The more representative tracks are those such as “Re:member” and “Unfold”, which balance the melancholy with bubbly and at times simply joyous electronic sound work. Listening to the vocal coos in the latter half of “Unfold” open you up to pure acceptance of the people around you. I get a palpable sense of gratefulness emanating from these songs, and each element is packaged and wrapped up like a gift.
Olafur Arnalds seems concerned with presenting his songs in tangible space, which at first would seem at odds with the airy quality of the instrumentation. But apart from the catchy electronics, Re:member utilizes ambient sound or even what sounds like the pressing of keys on “Saman” to keep the listener grounded in what is a musical presentation. So while the emotions of nostalgia or melancholy or gratitude can certainly be a focal point in the experience of the album, it also is important to get a sensory experience. I mentioned earlier memories washed away in trickling raindrops; Re:member is a record permeated with moisture, be it rain on a window (“Momentary”), morning dew (“They Sink”), grottos refracting sunlight (“Ypsilon”), or thin mist in the mountains (“Brot”).
Re:member is lovely and at times inspiring. Though for my personal taste the production borders on too sweet, it is music that can pluck at the heartstrings, both the very surface strings and those buried deep.
review by Andy Resto