The fourth album from Ólöf Arnalds sees a marked change in direction from her previous albums. It’s her most collaborative effort to date with Gunnar Örn Tynes of múm and Skúli Sverrisson (who has worked with Blonde Redhead and Laurie Anderson, amongst others) coming on board. Despite her reservations about collaborative songwriting, it’s a process that seems to have liberated her and, possibly resulted in her best record to date.
Palme also sees a move away from the acoustic approach that Arnalds has favoured on her previous releases. The result is an album that possesses a shimmering depth and rewards careful, devoted listening. These are songs that might sound delicate and fleeting, but are in they fact multi-layered and carefully created although admittedly they are at times almost dreamlike.
Turtledove for example twinkles with delicate charm as Arnalds coos beautifully over its skittering beats. Arnalds voice is as always the defining sound of the album and its idiosyncrasies can be quite dividing. Her high register and quirky delivery draws parallels with the likes of Joanna Newsom and to some degree (on Defining Gender for example) even Kate Bush at her strangest. To some, it might come across as unbearably twee and willfully eccentric, but Palme offers a perfect backdrop to squash such concerns comfortably. In the case of Defining Gender, the interjection of strings is simply gorgeous (and allude to Björk‘s Come To Me) whilst the duet provides a grounded counterpoint to Arnalds heaven bound vocals.
There is little doubt that Sverrisson’s presence brings the best out in Arnalds. The title track is a case in point. Co-written by Sverrisson, it is the sound of rustic folk at its best. Delicate guitars are swept along on a breeze of delicate percussion, whilst Arnalds provides an haunting and whilstful vocal. To say it is understated is an understatement. However it is Patience, the lead single from the album, that is most striking. With its contemplative guitar line, sliding chord progressions and skiffle drum beat, it feels as if it is shifting on a sea of uncertainty until the gorgeous and uplifting choir joins in and provides a sense of joy and uplift. Their presence is an audible motif for the album, their assistance becomes a collaborative raft for Arnalds to cling to.
As a riposte, the song that follows Patience, Half Steady was written by Arnalds in her teens. It seems unlikely however given the tumbling electronic spin that this version was how it was how she originally intended it to sound. Regardless of who wrote what, it remains one of the more fascinating moments on the album. It skips along in 8-bit mode for a little while before adopting a woozy robotic chug whilst Arnalds puts in one of her most beguiling performances on the album, switching between a low automaton whisper and expansive croon.
The closing pair of Han Grete and Soft Living find her back in more traditional surroundings. Han Grete is a more low key affair; a gentle folk waltz filled with love and longing, it is genuinely heartfelt. Soft Living expands the folk template to include strings and trumpet but is driven by a gently propulsive bass line. It is at odds with the likes of Half Steady or genuinely wonky electro-thrum of Hypnose, and serves as a reminder that folk music is always at the heart of what Arnalds does. Fortunately, the choice between electro and folk, or collaboration and staying solo is not one that has to be made. If it works, does it matter. Palme, proves that whatever the approach, Ólöf Arnalds is definitely doing something right.