For such a tiny nation, Iceland (population: 320,000) has produced a hell of a lot of brilliant musicians over the past two decades.
Ólöf Arnalds is very much a part of the Reykjavik music mafia: a member of Múm, her debut solo album, Við Og Við, was produced by Sigur Rós’ Kjartan Sveinsson, and she has shared a stage with Björk several times. Við Og Við (“Now and Then”) was released in 2007 in her native country, but it’s taken a while for the rest of the world to catch up—it was just released in the U.S. this year. Sung entirely in Icelandic, Arnalds’ delicate, glacial folk songs are sparsely backed by guitar and/or harp, leaving room for her pitch-perfect vocals to take center stage. At her best, as on the spellbinding “Í nýju húsi” and “Orfeus og Evridís,” she comes across like a Nordic Joanna Newsom or Vashti Bunyan. God knows what she’s singing about, but it’s often very beautiful.