Produced by long-time collaborator, Skuli Sverrisson, Sudden Elevation is Ólöf Arnalds first entirely English offering. For this, Arnald’s third solo album, was largely recorded during a late autumn stint in a seaside cabin on Iceland’s west coast. And it is an earthy sounding album. You can almost hear the fjord, the volcanic mountains and the warmth of the cabin set against the cold Icelandic nights.
After the comparatively busy and light beat lament on death that is the album’s opener, German Fields, Sudden Elevation settles down into a mostly sparse affair with acoustic guitar, piano and charango lute providing the backdrop to Arnald’s voice. And it is quite a voice. Described by Björk, who collaborated on 2010’s Surrender as “…somewhere between a child and an old lady”, it is certainly a thing of beauty. Much like that of her native Iceland, that is perhaps not so easily accessible, sometimes a little harsh (as in Call it What You Want) and is probably both her greatest asset and her biggest barrier to more commercial success.
There is a feeling with Arnald’s previous two solo releases, Vio go Vio and Innundir Skinni, and it is plainly evident here, that she is doing something more than singing a collection of songs; her voice is very much an instrument which she controls with a natural but masterful virtuosity.
The English lyrics may make Sudden Elevation more widely accessible than previous efforts, but they almost don’t matter. They are neither bad, nor anything to get excited about. Their delivery is the important factor. On the beautifully simple Bright and Still, the Cat Stevens-esque Treat Her Kindly and in particular on the wonderful A Little Grim, it is Arnald’s stunningly powerful yet fragile voice gracefully riding clockwork waves of guitar and lute that make Sudden Elevation distinct and unforgettable.