Við og Við, Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Ólöf Arnalds' solo debut, was originally released in Iceland back in 2007, and is only finding a U.S. home this week. Opening 2010 with an album like Við og Við could perhaps inject this decade with a deep sense of melody, history and space.
Although she has been compared to Björk, Arnalds, who is also a member of the Icelandic band Múm, sounds a lot more like an Icelandic Joanna Newsom. Her vocals quaver and lilt; they are playful, yet sad and full of epic folk-music lamentation. Björk herself told National Public Radio's All Songs Considered that Arnalds' voice falls "somewhere between a child and a really old woman."
On Við og Við, Arnalds plucks a toy guitar, a ukulele and a regular guitar. Strings and horns come in occasionally, but each song is always quiet, intimate and, to pick up on Björk's description, somewhere between the timeless aura of traditional folk music and the youthful glow of indie folk-pop. This old/new space seems to create a mystical, hypnotic vacuum: On "Klara," for instance, Arnalds plays a toy guitar, and when what sounds like an organ comes in halfway through, barely audible, it's as if it's there in acquiescent adulation, like it was nearby and couldn't help itself, the way some songs make listeners involuntarily tap their feet or hum along.
Arnalds' songs invite you to listen closely, sway, hum along and get sucked into her world.