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Baker's Dozen

Found Songs: Ólafur Arnalds' Favourite Albums
Wyndham Wallace , March 11th, 2013 12:56

The Icelandic neo-classical composer and producer takes a break from producing his cinematic soundscapes to pick out his 13 favourite records, ahead of his set at the Barbican tonight

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This may come as a surprise to anyone who’s only familiar with Ólafur Arnalds for the cinematic, solo instrumental records he’s been releasing since 2007: the quietly sardonic 26-year-old Icelander was once the drummer for hardcore acts named Fighting Shit and Celestine. In fact, he only turned to composing after handing demos of a prog-rock project he was working on to Germany’s anti-racist metal act Heaven Shall Burn, with whom he was touring back in 2004. The band asked him to compose incidental music to open and close a handful of songs, and, upon hearing the results, encouraged him to release an album of similar material on their label.

Since then he’s been a prolific writer, lending a newfound dignity to the idea of deeply moving, frequently epic orchestral music. His latest, For Now I Am Winter, is his first for the legendary, classical Deutsche Grammophon label, an indication of the level of respect he’s won in a field that’s notoriously suspicious of progress and crossover. He’s proud, however, that his contract allows him to continue working in some capacity with Erased Tapes Records, with whom he’s become somewhat synonymous, and for whom he released his first two albums, two seven track EPs – written and recorded, one song per day, over the course of a week – as well as music for a ballet, Dyad 1909, and three film scores.

For Now I Am Winter, however, represents a departure of a different kind for Arnalds.

“For my whole career,” he laughs, “people keep asking me, ‘Why is your music instrumental? Why aren’t there any vocals?’ And I always have a very clear answer: it’s because this is how I like it, and this is how I want to do it. But after answering that question about a hundred times, you start thinking about it in a different way. ‘Wait! Why am I so sure? Why can’t I at least try it?’”

So his third ‘proper’ full length is also the first to include vocals, even if they’re in fact provided by “a very good friend of mine in an Icelandic band called Agent Fresco. I asked him to try to write a couple of songs with me, and it turned out great. So there was no reason not to do vocals anymore!”

Despite the fact the record is now available, things don’t seem to be quietening down. “I haven’t had much time to think about that,” he admits. “I’m doing this British TV show, Broadchurch, just finishing that up in the next couple of days, and I also have a meeting with the director of the next film I’m doing. It’s an Icelandic film called Life In A Fishbowl by Baldvin Zophoníasson. He was also the director of Jitters, which I did three years ago.”

Finding the time to select his 13 records has therefore been tough, he concedes. Asked for the criteria by which they were selected, he giggles a little shamefacedly: “Me staying up late doing the fourth press request in a row and trying to actually even think about 13 records!” In fact, it takes him a while to recall what was on the list, and they represent a curious mixture, as unlikely to some, perhaps, as his transformation from hardcore drummer to neo-classical composer.

“Some of them are in my current favourites,” he explains. “Others are things I listened to a lot when I was younger. But they’re definitely records that are amongst my all-time favourites...”

Arnalds plays the Barbican tonight. Click on the image below to start scrolling through his choices


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Mar 11, 2013 1:18pm

Love this feature. This might not be the place for it but I would really love to see an Autechre’s Baker’s Dozen. We’ll see!

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The Whip Hand
Mar 11, 2013 4:25pm

I made it to Justin Beiber and almost clicked away... Then I got to the vile Death Cab (apologies to Viv Stanshall RIP), commented, and fled in fucking horror. Worst Baker's Dozen ever this side of Butch Vig.

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Mar 11, 2013 10:50pm

In reply to The Whip Hand:

You stopped at Death Cab? What if his remaining choices were the greatest albums ever made (per your opinion)?

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Mar 11, 2013 10:55pm

My question is, what does neo-classical mean? I'm sure, Mr. Wallace, that you did not create this term - seems an odd genre, if we can even call it that.

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John Doran
Mar 12, 2013 12:01am

In reply to Apop:

Shame you didn't bother Googling the term Neoclassical music before posting your comment really.

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Mar 12, 2013 3:14am

In reply to John Doran:

John, I know 'neoclassical' very-- if not extremely-- well. Some of it is great; lots isn't; lukewarm Satie via Part that usually doesn't even know Mompou. I don't "buy" the "pop moment" b.s. for a minute (re: Bieber) and have always found eveyrthing about Death Cab loathsome... In a world of infinite choices, that's enough for me dismiss Olafur outright...

Though I'd love it if you could nail down Bill Wells for one of these, or either of the Stars of the Lid dudes. Brian McBride of SOTL is co-leader of the new album by the extremely Dennis Wilson-damaged Los Angeles band Bell Gardens... I think ya'll would likely enjoy it (it certainly has more to offer on all levels than the new MbB social contract album).


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Mar 12, 2013 3:57am

A boring selection by a bland musician. Olafur's music is perhaps best defined as 'pop' classical, in the same bracket as things like Il Divo and Andrea Bocelli.

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Mar 12, 2013 4:54pm

In reply to John Doran:

I did research it, my man, indeed i did.

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Mar 12, 2013 8:33pm

In reply to Enkeling:

You really can't have seen this feature much if you think Autechre might not be suitable for it!!!

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Mar 13, 2013 3:36am

So cool he has Mew on there the best album of 2011. Saved the list

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Mar 13, 2013 11:26pm

I enjoyed the fact that this list stumbled in and out of "bad taste". Some interesting choices.
It's more annoying when someone presents a list that looks like "Rolling Stone's 13 Greatest Records Ever Made" and consists entirely of stuff you sold back to the shop when you were 17.

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Mar 14, 2013 3:36am

can this douche be more dull? i'm running out of albums?!

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