Sometimes, I need music that will take me away to some place peaceful: somewhere comforting and simply beautiful. Because of this, I’ve been listening to David Arkenstone albums of late. His brand new album, Solitude, released on September 24th, and it is exactly the majestic and serene work of art I wanted to hear.
David comes to us from California, USA. He is a prolific veteran of both New Age music and scores. He has worked in some familiar settings, working on the soundtrack to World of Warcraft for instance, while also releasing dozens of his own solo works since 1987. He has been nominated for a Grammy four times thus far. On Solitude, David handles piano and textures; and guests Luanne Homzy on violin 1 and hardanger fiddle, Hana Kim on violin 2, Jonah Sirota on viola, and Evgeny Tonkha on cello all join him.
David makes music that he likes to call “soundtracks for the imagination”. His music is New Age, often ambient, often neoclassical, and definitely cinematic. He creates spaces in our minds, places we can go to emote, pine, and simply be at peace. What he does is truly extraordinary, in my opinion, as his mature compositional skills could surely be used to create something technical or pretentious, but David skips all of this. He focuses on feelings, textures, and space instead.
Solitude itself is a beautiful album, through and through. The general theme here is our human longing to arise from solitude after the COVID pandemic, and I think we can all relate to that. Much of this album feels like being caught in our own personal worlds, an individual cosmos that could perhaps forget about what is “out there”. But something within us will not allow that; something within us begs for reprieve from the seclusion and slumber we have experienced.
I think David captures this very well. This album has a Celtic bent to it, like many of his works, and he uses the string quartet abundantly, as well as his gentle piano musings. I love the interplay between his keys and the string quartet, and you can see this in his music video for “Without Wind or Tide”, a spunky little track with quick reflexes and a sparkle in its eye. Most of the songs, however, offer more in the way of majesty, quiet fervor, and reflection.
The album comes out swinging with two tracks, “Jökulsárlón” (an Icelandic glacier lagoon) and “Emergence”. Both of these songs are fabulous, the former being more atmospheric and transitory, and the latter having a gorgeous central melody that grows and flourishes. Some other great tracks are “The Cerulean Frost”, an ambient piece that feels cold and remote, and the “Waiting for the Moon” and “Waiting for the Sun” pair that both feel emotional and full of longing.
The second half of the record has some songs that surely stir the soul. “Lament of the Ice Giants” particularly sounds Celtic and fantastical, offering some monastic vocals and whimsy that reminds me of Elder Scrolls soundtracks. Another favorite here is “Mare Tranquillitatis”, a track that focuses on aura and texture primarily, but it possesses a subtle melodic hook that always feels satisfying.
On the streaming version, “Reflections in the Empty Spaces” is the closer. This song is exquisite and violin-heavy, feeling rather classical and hovering as the album finishes. When you buy the album, though, it comes with “The Silence of Snow” and “I Closed My Eyes and the Autumn Passed”. These are both beautiful songs, the former giving us lots of piano and hushed tones. It gets a little plucky at times, and I like that. “I Closed My Eyes and the Autumn Passed” is primarily piano. This is David musing and reflecting with his fingers on the keys. It feels deep, contemplative, and sensitive. It is probably one of my favorites overall.
David Arkenstone typically releases multiple albums per year, so it is impossible to keep up with him. Still, Solitude is such a stunning and exquisite album that I think anyone can glean and gain something from it. This is pure serenity, unadulterated loveliness, and composed presence. I know I will be listening to it often.
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