Ólafur Arnalds – “LateNightTales” (2016)

From hardcore punk rock to neoclassical to electronica, it feels like Ólafur Arnalds has experimented with just about every type of musical genre that exists.  At the ripe old age of 29 he finds himself at the forefront of the growing modern classical movement.  As the notes on the back of LateNightTales‘ jacket tell us:

Right now we’re standing at the intersection where techno meets classical music and it sounds mighty fine.

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I was surprised the other day when I came across this June 2016 release, as I hadn’t seen anything online about Arnalds releasing a new album.  Though, to be fair, LateNightTales isn’t exactly an Ólafur Arnalds project – he’s directly involved in only four of the 18 tracks that make up the double album, three credited as Ólafur Arnalds and one as part of his fantastic ambient electronic duo Kiasmos, all of which appear to be previously unreleased.  The other 14 tracks are contributed by an interesting assortment of artists, a few of who like Samaris, James Blake, Rival Consoles and Hjaltalín that I’m familiar with, but also others who I haven’t heard before.

This latest curated LateNightTales release is pure chill, songs for the evening time when you’re hanging with a small group of friends, or maybe just by yourself, relaxing, talking, unwinding, grooving…  I wasn’t familiar with this series of compilations until checking out the label website and was surprised to see a couple of dozen of the these collections put together by artists like Fatboy Slim, The Flaming Lips, and Django Django, and it’s an interesting concept.  It appears that a number of LateNightTales releases include cover songs by the curating artist, and in Arnalds’ case he teams up with vocalist Arnór Dan of Agent Fresco fame (who was also featured alongside Arnalds on the brilliant track “Old Skin” on For Now I Am Winter) to cover Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” which Arnór handles beautifully.

Arnalds’ own material is, of course, excellent.  But of the artists he selected I came away most impressed with the more uptempo ambient of Rival Consoles’ “Pre” and the rich beats of Jai Paul’s “Jasmine (Demo)”.  Spooky Black’s “Pull” is another high point, with its haunting vocals that seem to float on top of the undercurrent that is the music and the beat that has a surprising kick to it for such an ethereal song.

I’ll have to keep my eyes open for used copies of other albums in the LateNightTales series – it’s a cool concept and I could see getting into some of these if the price is right.

Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 3

How did we get to Day 3 already?

We’ve been away from home for a little over a week now, and I have to say that other than missing our dog, I have not missed the day-to-day of being there one little bit.  This isn’t some boo-hoo complaint about my life – far from it.  I have a pretty outstanding life full of amazing people, and I get to do things like travel to Iceland to go to music festivals. But a week or so of not going to or thinking about work, paying bills, cleaning clogged gutters, and trying to figure out if the milk in the fridge is safe enough for one more bowl of cereal, well… travel has its benefits.

The weather has turned from mostly dry to mostly hit-and-miss, but that won’t keep us inside.  We wandered town a bit before I caught up with Life in the Vinyl Lane reader and someone I email with regularly, Arni, who was down the street at Reykjavik Record Store.  We hung out with shop owner Reynir for a bit and talked about music and records and their mutual disbelief that I still don’t own any Sigur Rós records.  It was great to finally meet him in person.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

From there Norberto and I headed down to KEX Hostel to see one of my favorite all-time Icelandic bands (and frankly just bands period) Agent Fresco (above).  I reviewed their new album Destrier a few months ago and have been loving it.  We got there about 45 minutes before show time, which was good enough to secure spots in the second “row” of standing fans – which if you’ve never been to KEX means we were maybe six feet front the band.  Being close to the action is important at KEX since there is no stage and the performers are at floor level, and I wanted to make sure I could get a few pictures, so an early arrival was a must.  As expected, they killed it with their emotional, high-energy six-song set, which I’m almost certain was all drawn from the new album.  After 25 minutes they were all soaked in sweat and the crowd was hoarse from cheering.  While Holly opted not to join us (the room at KEX can get packed to the point where it’s a bit uncomfortable at times), she followed along online because Seattle’s KEXP radio station broadcast the entire thing live.  The video of the performance will likely be out in the next month or two, so keep your eyes open for it on YouTube!.

We headed back to the apartment, picked up Holly, and then it was a dash two blocks down the street to the Geysir clothing store to see another of our Icelandic favorites, Berndsen, who performed a happy, smiling set of electro-pop.  The store was already packed when we arrived, but eventually we managed to wiggle our way inside so we could get a bit closer and hear the sound better.  Most of Berndsen’s act was drawn from his most recent album Planet Earth, but he also reached back to his debut Lover in the Dark to play my favorite of his songs, “Supertime.”  And, as always, by the end he ended up shirtless and touching people’s faces in the crowd.  “It’s ten Euro to touch my body… or you can buy one of our CDs instead,” he told us at the end of the show.  Love that guy. But I think I’ll stick with the CD.  Thanks.

Our last off-venue show of the day involved a trip back to KEX to see the Japanese acid punk band Bo Ningen (I believe this is pronounced “bo-nin-yin”).  I was intrigued by the clips of their music I heard prior to the trip, and when we’d been at KEX earlier in the day our friend Jim from KEXP told us they were expecting a big turnout for the show.  And Jim was right – we were about four or five people deep in the crowd when we arrived 30 minutes before show time.

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And (un)holy hell, what a show!  This was one of those moments you live for as a music fan, when you go into a show with minimal expectations and something incredible happens.  Because Bo Ningen brings it in a way I’ve never seen anyone bring it before, and when they kicked into gear it’s like they had battery acid burning through their veins and were flailing about trying to get it out.  Taigen (above) was like a possessed cult leader on bass and vocals, summoning demonic spirits to come up to KEX and fry our minds with a sheer wall of noise.  Taigen played the bass behind the back… over the head… upside down… holding it out like a gun… and almost decapitated the camera man not once but twice, and when the guitarist started windmilling his guitar (not his arm in the act of playing it… swinging the entire guitar in circles) in that confined space I was fairly certain someone was going to end up with a concussion.  But it held together until the end, and the cheering that erupted from the crowd at the conclusion of the set was the loudest I’ve ever, ever heard at KEX.  Bo Ningen.  I’ll be buying some of your music as soon as I get home.

For the evening on-venue program we visited Harpa and caught the folk band Árstíðir, the sort of adult contemporary-ish Hjaltalín, and finally Seattle’s own Perfume Genius.  After nearly three long days of festival going we were all a bit tired, though, and the quiet music played by these three performers didn’t do much to help our flagging energy levels, so we walked up the street, got a few slices of pizza, and called it a night.

We’re past the half way point of Iceland Airwaves 2015 now, and it seems like we just got here.  With the normally sparse off-venue on Sunday, and the big blow-out already planned for Sunday night, that leaves us with just one more day to truly pick and choose.  I hope we choose wisely…