The last time we saw Ólafur Arnalds was at 2010’s Iceland Airwaves where he played our Hostel KEXP. In that show, he demonstrated his continued desire to engage in experimental recording practices by asking the audience to help him sing a loop for a song. Since his first album, Found Songs, back in 2009 received almost as much attention for the process by which it was released as for the actual songs, Arnalds has continued to expand on his subdued and stirring electronic and piano based music. Moving from a background in hardcore music to the world of classical electronic composition, he continues to impress with sometimes soothing and sometimes swelling scores.
This spring, Arnalds is touring to support his new album, For Now I am Winter, which brought him to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop and KEXP’s SXSW showcase. The trio of Arnalds, Viktor Orri Arnason on violin and Paul Grennan on cello contrasted against the sunny Austin afternoon with an intense yet soothing “Þú ert jörðin” that had the audience in rapt silence. The pristine compositions evoked icy and mystical imagery, as KEXP DJ Kevin Cole said, that was like a relaxing massage to our ears. Arnalds dug deep into his extensive catalog, pulling tracks from just about every album he has released. A particular highlight was “Poland”, a piano driven elegy that felt both hopeful and lost in the post-apocalyptic sonic landscape it created. Violin took center stage when Arnason delivered a solo on “3326” with an intensity that demanded attention. The trio then closed out the set with “Near Light,” perhaps their most uplifting song of the day, sending the audience out revitalized and ready for the next SXSW musical adventure.