Photo by Sigga Ella
For Reykjavík-based artist Ari Árelíus, the act of making music is not unlike composing a painting: an intuitive yet delicate merging of distinct elements to create moments of lasting transcendence. In recent years, the songwriter/guitarist/producer has explored such disparate genres as Saharan desert blues and psychedelic surf rock, drawing from his training as a jazz guitarist to dream up what he defines as “Icelandic desert music.” Newly signed to U.S.-based record label FOUND, Ari now brings his expansive sonic vocabulary to “Endless Summer” and “Sumar Gleymist”—two interconnected singles informed by everything from dystopian sci-fi to Spanish folkloric music, each revealing his unbridled imagination and visionary musicality.
Produced and mixed by Ari, “Endless Summer” and “Sumar Gleymist” mine inspiration from the likes of Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen and avant-garde jazz legend Alice Coltrane, unfolding in otherworldly textures and syncopated grooves with a strangely hypnotic power. As he weaves in serpentine guitar tones, Ari also foregrounds his metaphysical lyricism and idiosyncratic vocal work. To that end, “Endless Summer” orbits around an infinitely repeated and quietly ominous lyric that ponders the looming havoc of the climate crisis (“She will give the gift of endless summer”), taking on a chant-like intonation that echoes his longtime fascination with esoteric ritualism. “I wanted to reflect on the exploitation of the environment by using a sentence I’ve heard spoken with various levels of excitement and dread,” says Ari. “The whole song was built around that lyric, and ended up being very much inspired by my interest in Iceland’s long history of witchcraft and rituals and magic.” Thanks to his elemental vocal command, “Endless Summer” quickly lures the listener into a trance-like state that’s indelibly heightened by its combustible rhythms and incandescent trumpet riffs (courtesy of Icelandic musician Daníel Sigurðsson, also known as Artificial Disco).
On “Sumar Gleymist” (or, “Forgotten Summer”), Ari’s vocals turn sinister as he weaves a darkly charged narrative he synopsizes as “loving something but seeing its impending doom.” With its central lyric translating to “the nectar we drink as our hearts shiver,” “Sumar Gleymist” emerged as he reread the classic sci-fi novel Dune and noted author Frank Herbert’s remarkable ability to “take these very large ideas from philosophical texts and distill them into something with immediate appeal.” “I liked the idea of taking the song in a sci-fi direction, where it’s talking about bearing witness to the impacts of climate change and capitalism, and imagining yourself looking back at a society that’s destroyed itself,” Ari adds. In bringing the ominous yet oddly thrilling track to life, Ari worked with drummer Hreiðar Már Árnason and bassist Hlynur Sævarsson (also the rhythm section on “Endless Summer”) and with flute player Moritz Christiansen, encouraging his musical partners to create from pure instinct. “I usually write and record everything myself then send it off to my collaborators without much direction as far as the style or genre,” he says. “I want them to reinterpret things from their own perspective and improvise however they’d like—even if there’s some misunderstanding, it tends to give the song a more complicated personality.”
Mainly recorded in Ari’s apartment, “Endless Summer” and “Sumar Gleymist” each embody a colorful eclecticism he sees as unique to music created in Iceland. “So many of the genres we’re absorbing here come from cultures that we’re not a part of,” he says. “You can hear an Americana song on the radio, but when you try to play it you’ll inevitably interpret in your own way, so it becomes something else entirely. I’m not all that interested in being a purist; I’m much more excited by the experimentation that happens within that interpretation.”
Half french, born in Sweden but raised in Iceland, Ari first started making music after buying a guitar at age 13 (a move partly prompted by his love of heavy metal acts like Iron Maiden and Metallica). Along with playing in a number of bands and honing his craft as a songwriter, he soon added bass, piano, and drums to his repertoire and learned to self-produce with the help of his cousin Ragnar Jónsson (member of Icelandic electro-pop outfit Bloodgroup). After earning his degree in philosophy from the University of Iceland—an endeavor he considers an essential influence on his lyrical approach—Ari later studied guitar at a jazz conservatory in Iceland. “Jazz seems to be a subconscious part of my musicality now, where I’m always drawn toward unexpected chord changes and focused on creating interesting tensions in whatever I’m working on,” he notes. In 2022 he released his debut album Hiatus Terræ, in which he cross-pollinates elements of Icelandic music with sounds sourced from musical traditions from around the world. “The summer singles pick up where Hiatus Terræ left off, in the sense that they’re rhythm-focused and explore tonalities that are both local and global,” he points out. “At the same time, the music tends to come from moments when I’m improvising and working as intuitively as I can. It’s a meeting of the emotional and the rational, where I’m allowing the concepts to reveal themselves to me.”
With his next album due out in early 2024, Ari continues to embrace a certain free-flowing spontaneity and lack of calculation in the creative process. “Making music gives me a real sense of purpose, a way to reflect and better understand myself, but I think it’s important to dive in without expecting anything from the process,” he says. Still, he hopes that “Endless Summer” and “Sumar Gleymist” might leave the audience with a renewed sense of wonder at the natural world around us. “I think as humans we take so much for granted and don’t realize how incredible something is until we’ve lost it,” he says. “We’re at such a strange moment in the Earth’s history, and hopefully these songs will help inspire people to recognize what we have: to take the time to breathe the air and appreciate everything that nature gives us—even all the bad weather.”
- Elizabeth Barker