“I wanted to make an album that was more direct from the heart,” Ólafur Arnalds tells Apple Music. “Really, it’s about my own life and it’s about my relationships. And moving towards better days.” If 2018’s re:member featured Arnalds at his most ambitious and outwardly creative, some kind of peace sees the inventive composer travel to new, more personal territory, spurred along by the circumstances of a very unusual year. “The pandemic reminds us of the importance of communities, and it reminds us of the importance of our daily rituals and our connections with each other,” says Arnalds. “That’s what I explore here.” Just as on many of his previous records, on some kind of peace, Arnalds revels in collaborations with artists who bring new ideas and textures to his music. Those include Icelandic singer-songwriter JFDR, composer and producer Josin, and DJ and producer Bonobo, whose hypnotic electronic world opens this album up. “It’s easy to keep repeating yourself and to lose track of the wider vision of everything,” he says. “Collaborations are a way to break out of those boxes and have some new perspective.” Read on as Ólafur Arnalds guides us through the stunning some kind of peace, one song at a time.
Loom “Last summer the DJ and producer Bonobo and I went hiking in the Icelandic highlands and then headed into the studio, just for the fun of it. This is one of the tracks that came out. It’s a funny choice to put as an album opener as it’s electronic, whereas most of the album is not. But it felt perfect because it brings the listener from the stuff that I’ve been doing in the last few years into this new world. ‘Loom’ starts very electronic, dark, and rhythmic, but towards the end, we’ve opened the door to the rest of the album.”
Woven Song “‘Woven Song’ features a piano alongside Amazonian tribal chanting, which has a connection to me as I have friends who are from the same tribe. I always want my instruments to be very soft and quiet, as I feel more comfortable and free to explore them musically. When it’s so quiet, you have to put the microphone close and then you start hearing the mechanical action and creaking–even from the piano stool. It’s a wonderful side effect. When I’d finished this track, I knew exactly what this album needed to be.”
Spiral “This track features a melody that repeats for three and a half minutes—first on the violin, then viola, and then finally on the piano. It was initially written for an American TV series, but it didn’t really fit into it, so I took it out and put it aside to use somewhere else. It was one of the last tracks on the album because it wasn’t purposely written for it, but it became like the missing piece of the puzzle. The piano at the end was recorded with a 120-year-old cylinder phonograph to give it an old nostalgic sound.”
Still / Sound “This is one of the more electronic tracks of the album. And again, I'm transitioning towards the darker part of it. This is actually one of my favourite tracks on the album. I think it’s perfect. It’s one of the most important tracks on some kind of peace, yet I don’t know why.”
Back to the Sky “‘Back to the Sky’ features JFDR, an Icelandic musician who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. She’s perfect for this album because she’s very minimal in her writing, so her voice just becomes another instrument. The title is part of JFDR’s lyric, but what’s interesting is that I don’t fully know what she was thinking when she wrote it. But at the same time, it fits perfectly into the album. The track is partly about missed connections—people who go through the same places, but somehow don’t find each other.”
Zero “‘Zero’ is another turning point in the album. And if ‘Still / Sound’ and ‘Back to the Sky’ represent nighttime and the dark hours, ‘Zero’ is the moment where it turns around. Interestingly, I think it’s the first time in 10 years that I’ve done a modulation in a song, as it’s something I usually hate! It goes from a minor key into a completely different major key at the end. At that point voices gradually come in—they’re almost angelic, like a choir. But they’re very distorted, raw, processed voices.”
New Grass “As the title suggests, this track is about new ground and new territory—something hopeful, something beautiful and interesting. Happier times. The title is actually attributed to one of my favourite bands Talk Talk, who have a song called ‘New Grass.’ I used it as a little tribute to them. The music here features the album’s biggest string arrangement. Most of the album is very minimal in terms of what the musicians are playing, but this one is a little bit more active."
The Bottom Line “Josin wrote her lyrics to this song based on a conversation that we had. So, in a way, they come from both of us. We found a lot of things in common through transitions that we were going through at the time, as well as the difficulty of getting through those moments and realizing that on the other side, there’s this beautiful perspective that you haven’t seen before. You just have to get to the peak of the mountain. Musically, I tried to follow what Josin is saying in her lyrics. When she says, ‘Open your eyes,’ for example, the strings really follow and open up.”
We Contain Multitudes “I usually spend part of my year in Indonesia, where I have my friends and a second life. ‘We Contain Multitudes’ came about at a friend’s wooden cabin in the jungle. He had an old electric piano on the floor, and while he was painting, I was playing—just hanging out. The title is a tribute to a Walt Whitman poem, ‘Song of Myself,’ where he says, ‘I contain multitudes.’ He’s realizing that we have all these different personalities depending on where we are and who we’re with. I have a life over there and a life over here, and it can be a struggle to figure out who I am.”
Undone “The text you can hear, spoken by the late folk singer Lhasa de Sela, is more hopeful than sad. It’s about thinking that we’re about to die, but in reality we’re being born again. It’s a metaphor for the transitions and struggles we go through. They often feel like they won’t end, and they often feel like death, in a sense. But when we get through them, we come through the other side realizing that we’ve gained a new perspective on life. The pianos we hear at the beginning run throughout. They start out unclear, with a random rhythm and no tempo, but slowly they become aligned. The last note is like a final breath.”