Stare - Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #82

I was on my laptop one day last week, doing something that obviously wasn’t memorable, when suddenly I was alerted that new files were being added to my Dropbox folder. Knowing it could only be one person (my friend James) and knowing it would likely be something I’d enjoy, I checked it out pretty quickly, and was surprised I hadn’t even heard of what I’d just received. Frantic research ensued, needless to say, after I’d heard the music. It’s an EP, released for Record Store Day last year, a celebration of the art of music and records that has taken place every April since 2007.  Last year, over 400 special releases were distributed in celebration of the day, with artists as big as ABBA, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie having promotional material in records stores. This particular collaboration between German musician Nils Frahm and Icelandic musician Ólafur Arnalds isn’t likely to be one of the most well-known releases of last year, and I personally haven’t heard any of the others, but from this fortunate dropbox acquirement, like an extraterrestrial artifact fallen mysteriously from the sky, its unexpected arrival into my consciousness has given me great joy and appreciation for its contents.

These two musicians apparently had struck up something of a musical kinship based on mutual admiration, musical interests and a love of pizza. After numerous informal jam sessions and playing on each other’s sets, Arnalds proposed the idea of actually recording some music together in Frahm’s Berlin studio. The fruits of this collaboration ended up as the second side of this particular EP, a long piece of minimalist ambience. The results were so great that about 6 months later the dynamic duo relocated to Reykjavik to write and record side A, a different beast altogether. Arnalds commented on how it turned into an “Iceland vs. Berlin thing… side a vs. side b, and that is the most interesting thing about this record for me: that subtle but significant different [sic] in the characteristics of the music two people made in Iceland against what the same two people made in Germany.” And he is absolutely right, the differences are significant indeed, but complimentary and endlessly interesting. The “Icelandic” pieces that occupy side A are shorter, more contemplative and structured, treading carefully and leaving a distant but lasting impression. A1 is hazy and muffled, dream-like in its exposition, opening with on the beatless drift of a calm ocean tide, slowly rocking back and forth and making its way into our consciousness without us even being sure how it got there. A sequencer comes into the fray and the gentle synths rise in intensity for several minutes before receding again into the background, like the flow of the tide, the changing of the seasons, offering a mere taster of what these two have to offer. A2 continues the feeling, with its shimmering soundscapes reminding us of a clear, calm winter’s day, frost covering the ground, nature at an almost standstill, and our minds in deep contemplation. It is precise and delicate in structure, not outstaying its welcome, and again receding to almost nothing before the track ends, a reminder that these moments of contemplation and beauty are transient, gone before we know it, and we need to appreciate them while they’re there.

The “German” side is a solitary piece; the result of their first collaboration, and the German sound is evident straight away, with a long sequencer introduction reminiscent of Tangerine Dream at their pinnacle. Continuing uninterruptedly for several minutes, you’re sucked into the repetition before you realize the subtle progressions that are happening; dark reverberations, the echo of a distant voice, minute alterations in the sequencer pattern. It lulls you into a false sense of security before the post-apocalyptic beat appears: not raging or warlike, but persistent and far off, like the echoes of gunshots from miles away across a devastated City 17. A somber, mournful cello then takes the track deeper in its explorative journey, adding just enough melancholy to be emotive and not enough to send the track delving into overbearing sentimentality. Cellist Anne Müller supposedly contributed this part after stopping by at 5am after a show, and the seriousness and languid quality of this contribution is what makes it so fascinating.

Once again I’m a bit late to jump on the bandwagon, but this is nevertheless a thrilling piece of music that deserves to be heard no matter if Record Store Day 2012 is long past us. I can only hope that another such collaboration or even individual contribution will be made available this year, as at just 25 minutes I’m dying to hear more from them. It’s a fascinating piece of work and one I’d happily pick up in a record store at any time of the year.

Words – Adam.

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