then – here’s a beautiful little thing. An EP from
extraordinary Icelandic singer Ólöf Arnalds, filling
in while her new album is completed, and consisting of five extraordinarily
well-chosen cover versions. This is as stripped down as it could
be – Arnalds accompanied by an acoustic guitar, breathing
new life into familiar tunes like Neil Diamond’s Solitary
Man, Bob Dylan’s She Belongs to Me,
and a breathtakingly brilliant medley of Springsteen’s I’m
on Fire and Gene Clark’s With Tomorrow,
which I’ve long loved from the version performed by This
Mortal Coil. Also included are Arthur Russell’s Close
My Eyes, and Caetano Veloso’s Maria Bethania.
It’s hard to pin this down to any specific genre –
Arnalds performance floats through folk, low-fi, and all manner
of eccentricity, never being less than absolutely gorgeous and
haunting. Comparisons will inevitably be made to fellow Icelander
(and sometime collaborator) Bjork, with whom she shares a curious
childlike vocal quality (and accent, naturally); by the same token,
you can here Joanna Newsom being channeled. But to suggest that
Arnalds is anything less than a wholly original performer would
be to do her a great disservice.
The mark of a great cover version is when an artist can take a
song, disassemble it and then recreate it in a way that brings
a new meaning to it, without destroying whatever it was that made
the song work initially. Arnalds manages to do that on all five
tracks here, creating original, intimate renditions that are charming,
unsettling, heartbreaking and uplifting, often all at once.
How good is this? I played it all once, went right back and played
it again. And then again. I can’t praise this EP enough.
Close your eyes and listen.