Hot on the heels of Nils Frahm’s Late Night Tales mix from last fall, Ólafur Arnalds steps to the plate with a mix of his own. Like Frahm, Arnalds is not known as a DJ, but his set is more like a mix tape, warm and inviting from beginning to end. Along the way, he includes both influences and friends, spanning a wide array of genres in smooth and beguiling fashion.
The mix sounds Icelandic, although many of the artists hail from other lands. Perhaps it would be better to say that it sounds like Iceland Airwaves or the Solstice Festival, which include international acts. A traditional Icelandic song provides the lead-in to Juliana Barwick’s “Forever”, which hearkens back to her prior album, recorded in Reykjavik. This cloud of choral beauty gently gives way to more electronic sounds, including that of Odesza, whose recent popularity can be attributed to the success of single “Say My Name.” Ironically, while that track is not the one included here, there is a song by that name on the album: a stunning slow cover of the Destiny’s Child hit by Arnalds and Arnór Dan, akin to the Craig Armstrong pieces on the score for The Great Gatsby. And while an older James Blake track is also included (Blake, like Barwick, has just released a new album), it doesn’t steal the show, but blends right in. Arnalds admits that he was learning on the spot, but some of the DJ’s greatest lessons are incorporated, the greatest of which is key; such attention allows the songs to flow despite their disparate origins.
Listeners are likely to make a few discoveries here. The now-defunct Berlin duo Anois offers a piece that sounds a lot like early múm (members of which appear on the Barwick album ~ it’s all connected). Icelandic bands Samaris and Hjaltalin are represented by two of their finest tracks (Hjaltalin by the uncharacteristically sedate and heartbreaking “Ethereal”, which closes the set). And Arnalds himself contributes exclusive pieces, including one as Kiasmos. In so doing, he checks off another requirement of a successful mix: presenting a springboard to discovering other music. Since he’s writing this music himself, it’s no surprise that his songs are included in the most brilliant segues, the best being that of Samaris’ “Góða Tungl” into his own “RGB” then out into Jamie xx’s remix of Four Tet’s “Lion.” When it’s all over, David Tennant reads a bedtime story from Anam Sufi, and it’s off to sleep for most fans; but some will want to go back to the start and play it again. It’s that good.
I won’t try to pick a winner between Frahm and Arnalds; suffice it to say that the Late Night Tales series is more dynamic than ever. Long after many other series have dissipated, it continues to restore hope in the mix format. We already want more, but for now, this will cast a calm net over the late nights of summer. (Richard Allen)