Ólafs is something of a musical prodigy. He has been playing since the age of 5 and his debut album, Absent Minded, was written at the age of 14. At just 19 he performed live on Icelandic television, catching the attention of Björk’s manager Derek Birkett which led to him signing with One Little Indian Records (now called One Little Independent). Now just barely into his twenties, Gabríel Ólafs continues to exhibit a strikingly advanced level of sonic maturity and emotional depth on his sophomore offering Piano Works.
Piano Works features, as you would expect, eight piano solos played with exquisite tenderness by Ólafs. These are thoughtful and delicate pieces infused with melancholy and tinged with introspection. As an album, it is at once intimate and cinematic.
Of his music, Ólafs has previously said, “I am very visually-minded, and I often compose to an imaginary story or character. You could say my album is a score to a non-existent film.” It is a telling comment, with many of the pieces here sounding like the theme to a classic film you have known forever.
The melodic and timeless Absent-minded is a case in point, perfectly showcasing Ólafs’ striking ability to let the spaces within the notes express as much as the notes themselves. The masterful use of the felt pedal across the album adds to a sense of other-worldliness and contemplation.
The ¾ time signature features heavily, in the soothing Birta, the standout Cyclist Waltz (which recalls Michael Nyman at his best) and Flatey, one of the few tracks to incorporate more noticeable syncopation. The darker Lóa (Variation) has a much more ambient feel, using reverb and synth to create a deeper soundscape.
There is space within Ólafs music to allow the listener to feel a beautiful flexibility that gives the music a sense of improvised freedom despite its well-structured composition and arrangement.
In some ways, it is hard to dissect or analyse an album like Piano Works, which relies so heavily on emotion and atmosphere and where each track beautifully complements the next. It is safe to say that these eight pieces – with their purity and their beauty – will touch the hardest of hearts. Olafs has a gift – that innate ability to create music infused with passion and meaning – and Piano Works presents that gift at its best.
2. Birta 02:45
3. Absent Minded (Solo)
4. Loa (Variation) 01:43
5. Cyclist Waltz (Solo)
6. Filma (Solo)
8. Mosi 01:58