palme-large
Tracklist:
  1. Defining Gender
  2. Half Steady
  3. Han Grete
  4. Hypnose
  5. Palme
  6. Patience
  7. Soft Living
  8. Turtledove

For the record, I’m not a big fan of electronica. I find it largely soulless and insipid. Some of my favourite bands who have dabbled with electronics on recent projects have failed to keep me interested in spite of their best efforts to try and sound all cool and up-to-date. However, there are exceptions, and when it’s done well the results are exciting and intriguing.

Which brings us nicely to Palme, the new record from Ólöf Arnalds. On her previous outings, Ólöf’s voice has been the lead instrument over an often sparse, acoustic-folk backing, 2010’s Innundir Skinni being a high point. Last year’s patchy Sunny Elevation had its high points, but overall it felt like a change needed to come. Well now it has. Teaming up with múm’s Gunnar Örn Tynes and acclaimed composer Skúli Sverrisson could well prove to be a masterstroke, for Palme is the most fascinating record of Ólöf’s career so far.

Palme boats a richer, more textured sound than her earlier works and while opener “Turtledove” gives little away, it has a new depth to it that hints at what is to come. Things bounce into life with “Defining Gender”, which begins to display the exploratory production techniques employed on the album. Ólöf duets with Tynes over a familiar acoustic backing, but it is the warming bossa nova beat and the lovely layer of strings that sets it off.

The highlight is the lead single “Patience”. Although penned by Sverrisson, it is one of the best tracks in Ólöf’s canon, a real delight. “Half Steady”, meanwhile, is a song she wrote as a teenager and is a playful little thing, its repeated robotic pulse acting as the foundation for all sorts of instrumental and vocal merriment on top. What it lacks melodically, it makes up for in adventurousness and, well, fun. “Hypnose” is another example of where the production lifts things to another level. It blends acoustic instrumentation with some intriguing electronic beats and noises to create a backdrop for Ólöf’s voice to wander and roam wherever it wants to go. In a way, it sounds like a remix of an Ólöf Arnalds song, while at the same time sounding completely natural.

And that’s the thing here: Ólöf hasn’t strayed into the dreaded trendy electro-pop territory of many artists around at the moment. She’s made a record that feels like an Ólöf Arnalds record, there just happens to be a bit more happening on this one. So even a track like “Soft Living”, a more conventional-sounding Ólöf Arnalds song, but with subtle yet effective use of strings and brass, has something about it that sets it apart from her earlier work. It’s not perfect though. “Han Grete” for instance does very little to keep the mood going, while the title track is in danger of veering towards easy-listening mediocrity. These are minor quibbles though. More of note is the record’s length. Palme is labelled as an album, yet with only 8 songs and weighing in at a mere 30 mins, it’s more of a mini-album. Which is a shame as I’m left a little unfulfilled. Palme is probably Ólöf Arnalds’ finest work to date, there’s just not enough of it.

-Rob Baker

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