Ólafur Arnalds ft. Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir: Particles

My car isn’t new – in fact, it’s a wreck. But it would be new to you if you were foolish enough to buy it. So pardon me for finding a track which is more than six months old (about one-twentieth the age of my old banger I might add) but wouldn’t have had much airplay here in the UK I suspect, except by Of Monsters and Men fans.

I say that because OMAM’s Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir pops up to deliver the vocals on this track. OMAM have been very quiet recently but the world touring that followed each of their two albums in 2012 and 2015 would have shamed their Viking ancestors and got the better of anyone.

I guess they’re in furlough now while they recover, and think about a third album (the second was more mature than the first but lacked its excitement, so they’ve plenty to consider). And it’s during times like this that band members tend to do short or one-off collaborations such as this example.

So apart from obtaining a nose ring Nanna has spent some of her spare time working on this excellent little song with Ólafur Arnalds, the BAFTA-winning multi-instrumentalist and producer who is variously tagged as ‘experimental, electronic, ambient.’  You’d never guess from this song that Ólafur has been a drummer in hardcore and metal bands but as I’ve often said before, that’s Iceland for you, the country that first coined the phrase ‘expect the unexpected.’

Particles is from his 2016 album Island Songs (a sort of play on words; apart from it being an island, the Icelandic for Iceland is Ísland). The project involved Arnalds travelling to seven different locations around the country in seven weeks, collaborating with seven different artists and releasing the audio and video for each on a weekly basis as the tour progressed. It could have been six/six/six but the devil was in the detail.

Actually, Particles was recorded in week #6 and if I understand it correctly it was in one of the two lighthouses in the tiny community of Garður on the tip of the wind and Atlantic Ocean battered Reykjanes Peninsula, which just happens to be Nanna’s hometown. I wish I’d known that before. I visited it once. If a place can be romantically isolated, it is. And that tells me a lot about her writing style and content. According to the album notes, she spent much of her childhood playing on the rocks there and telling ghost stories to other children. Those are the stories I suppose that later appeared on OMAM’s albums.

What I don’t know is if she penned the lyrics here. Ólafur isn’t known as a lyricist, while the words and delivery are very reminiscent of the soft ballads on both the OMAM albums. In fact, it could be an OMAM song.

It’s our practice to offer versions from Spotify or Soundcloud here for obvious reasons but in this instance, I think the video can be justified. Partly because of the atmosphere created, and partly because it proves that while Manchester has its Band on the Wall, Iceland isn’t to be outdone with its Band on a Staircase.

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