Olafur Arnalds – Found Songs/The Sky May Be Falling……But The Stars Look Good On You.

So this is a slightly different post.  Partly an album reivew.  Partly about a new documentary piece.  First things first though.  Album!

Well, most of you who read this page will know of my love for Olafur Arnalds.  At the start of 2008 I was introduced to his music through his album ‘Eulogy For Evolution’.  It fast became one of my favourite pieces of music by any artist.  I simply love that record.  It’s a beautiful piece of minimalist classical music.  And ever since I heard it, my fascination with such records and the way they are pieced together has exploded.  I have records by Max Richter, Johann Johannsson, Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick, Ludovico Einaudi…….the list goes on.  I have to credit those guys as bigger influences on the Kays Lavelle’s music and the songs I write than anyone other musicians.  I think there is a simplistic piano influence in the kays music for sure.  There has to be.  It’s how I write.  And fundamentally, it’s the brilliance of artists such as Olafur Arnalds that make me want to sit down and just play.  And the boundaries he attempts to break impress me also.  Like his new record ‘Found Songs’.  This is not an astounding record for the brilliance of the music, though that in itself is something quite breathtaking.  No, this is a piece of music that was recorded earlier this year.  Each day, over the course of a week, Olafur Arnalds wrote, recorded and released a song on his website.  He entitled this project ‘Found Songs’ and made the tunes fully downloadable for free.  Given the way this album was created, I think it’s an amazing piece of music.  I mean, a song a day!  And to come out with something as beautiful as LJosio in a day is truly remarkable in my honest opinion.  One song I can maybe comprehend.  But a whole week of stunning pieces of music is something quite mind blowing.  And the album is mind blowing.  Sure, it’s short.  I guess it should be.  It’s one thing to write a song a day, quite another to make these drawn out pieces of music.  I think the nature of the beast required short, sharp fragments of beauty and that’s what we have been presented with here.  Arnalds and his wonderful label Erased Tapes have now taken those songs, packaged them up with the winning photogrpahs (he ran a competition at the time inviting photographers to submit pictures for each song) and released it on limited edition vinyl and cd.  Being the cd whore I am, I bought it even though I have the downloads.  It’s just amazing.  Buy this record.

TSP Grade = A

Next is the new documentary which is showing on youtube at the moment.  I know little about it, other than it follows Olafur Arnalds whilst on tour in Iceland and the UK.  Anyways, all 3 parts are posted below.  Enjoy.

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Untitled, No.1, 2009. EM.

Album art.  It’s something I love with a passion.  I guess it’s a major reason why I still value the physical product more than the digital download.  Perhaps it’s the main reason why I have not whole heartedly embraced the digital era.  I dunno.  Answers on a postcard on that one I guess.  But there is something far more interesting and special to me about having the physical product, with all the love and thought that’s gone into the art and packaging, than just the encoded data that exists anywhere on the net.

Jake our old bassist once told me there are 2 ways to approach album art.  The first approach is to adopt the Tesco/Asda approach towards album art.  Emblazon your name on the cover, make the cover bright, fantastic, loud.  Something that screams “here I am, come buy me”.  The other approach is of course the more minimalist approach.  Subtle art, understated, minimal, that whispers “come closer and see what I’m all about”.   I always seem to be drawn in by the latter.  For example, I hate Babyshambles, but the cover of their debut album ‘Down In Albion’ is just lovely.  It drew me in when I first saw it in a music shop.  I wanted to know what it was.  Obviously, I didn’t buy it in the end, but the art is great.  Even if it is just a little bit of writing and a doodle.

Wilco are a band whose album art has constantly inspired.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is not only my favourite record but the cover art is fantastic.  Maybe it’s a personal thing on this one.  The Marina Towers in Chicago, which feature on the front cover, became one of my favourite buildings when I was working on my Masters thesis on tall buildings.  There’s something magical about them and it was so coincidental and bizarre when that album dropped and there they were on the front cover.   I think if I could live anywhere in the world then having a flat in the Marina Towers would be up there.  So cool.  The album art also provided me with a lovely shot looking across Lake Michigan to the city, which I used in my thesis.  Their follow up record ‘A Ghost Is Born’ also had lovely art work.  A simplistic white egg on a white background, both evocative and beautifully linked to the title of the record.  And ‘Sky Blue Sky’ similarly produced a stunning piece of cover art in my opinion.  A flock of birds against a stark white background.  Black on white.  Minimalist.  Stunningly beautiful.  Perhaps another reason I took a while to warm to ‘Wilco the Album’ had as much to do with my disappointment in the album artwork as my difficulty with the music itself.

Sigur Ros are another group who seem to spend as much time thinking about the artwork and packaging for their records as the music itself.  Making sure that every little detail from the first time you see a record til the last note finishes is a beautiful experience.  ‘Takk’ would be a perfect example for me.  Lovely packaging.  Gorgeous art.  Great music.  Job done in my eyes.  Every detail planned beautifully.  Whilst not my favourite album by Sigur Ros’ musically, it certainly wins in terms of art and packaging.

Micah P Hinson may well produce my favourite album art of all.  One of his covers was featured in my ‘The Things I Love Today’ feature.  The art, in this case photography, within that album is just stunning.   There is something very, very sexual and sensual about his album art.  It teases you with its beauty and sensuality.  It’s a million times more interesting and sexy than porn.  100 hundred million times actually.  His latest offering is obviously a different ball park altogether but equally as stunning, without the overt sexuality.  I just think it is fantastic how much time and effort goes into the production of a Micah P Hinson record.

Ultimately, good art makes me want to buy a record even more.  There are so many examples out there.  I couldn’t possibly list every single piece of album art I love.  But it’s that love, care and attention to detail which keeps me buying cds.   I get as excited about seeing what new album art looks like as I do about hearing a record for the first time.  I guess this could be seen as a little sad.  But it was Andy Warhol who said “an artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.”  In this digital age I see a lot of relevance in this quote relating to album art.  I for one am happy there are still people out there who care.  Who keep creating beautiful album art work.  And keep me buying cds.