I did not approach Ludovico Einaudi’s Islands with affluence. Like most music writers, my relationship with ambient, piano driven minimalist-compositions of contemporary classical has been a game of occasional embrace; anchored in a few Steve Reich releases and a cursory knowledge of Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson, but not much else. Islands arrived out of pure curiosity; Einaudi has charmed me in film scores before, but in no concrete releases. Personally, I was bored of my current boundaries and eager to set new ones.
the unabridged title, Islands – Essential Einaudi is fairly self explanatory. The record gathers a number of compositions from the Italian musician’s predictably abounding catalog; spanning 10 works, 19 records, and a handful of scores. A pianist at heart, most of these songs are structured entirely out of ivory – Einaudi softly tinkering around the upper half of his instrument in gorgeous melancholy, the sort of thing you’d expect in the post-resolution slope at the end of a film. It’s the sort of music you always hear, but never exactly know where to find – potentially because we as a demographic prefer songs with a little more meat on their skeletons, but this type of phantom delicacy can certainly cast a spell on a room. It makes things move in slow-motion, moments hang poignantly in the air – he’s carving a soundtrack for lovers, for loneliness, for living and for living rooms – chastise it for the white-collar glib and its uncontested beauty if you must, but there’s no denying that his craft has a variety of uses. His fleeting piano has that feeling we often associate with the sound; bittersweet, morosely fulfilled, with an undercurrent of swift, raw emotion –an easy way to the heart, but it’s an addicting sensation, something you might find yourself playing over until the feelings go away.
Einaudi has a lot more to offer. He’ll delicately wrap strings around his keys, or build to a breaking point, or turn his music inwards, emerging in prickly, discomforting atmosphere. These more active songs certainly show off Ludovico’s talent for composing, and scoring, and sound-making – but maybe not as a song-maker. When he embraces the more traditional tropes of escalating release, his music becomes more locatable to a thing. He ends up less of an artist, and more of a mechanic to a cause – making scaling, impenetrable songs that beat the listener with its purpose – like I said completely necessary within a score but not for much of an invigorating listen. The elegant simplicity of his solo-piano compositions ends up the favorite, perhaps the favorite for the layman, but the favorite none the less.
So, between us uncultured folk who can’t run with the orchestral crowd, is Islands a recommendation? Well, it might not make your year end list or blow minds with inventive gravitas, but it’s most certainly a record you’ll want around the house. When the mood makes sense, the successes of Ludovico Einaudi are irreplaceable.