Boomkat Product Review:
The volume of documentary, short and feature film scores Johann Johannsson has penned is prolific to say the least - even before you take into account his rumoured involvement with the Bladerunner reboot. Even his most widely celebrated work to date, Englabörn, was conceived as a theatre soundtrack. It's surely a testament to the standalone power of his output that despite so much of his material having been designed to accompany other people's projects, it's still so much a part of the modern classical canon in its own right.
This album for Type was composed as a soundtrack for Marc Craste's award winning animated film Varmints, and draws on the signature elements of Jóhannsson's compositional style: widescreen orchestration, beatific choirs and the most finely crafted electronic backdrops imaginable - all colluding for some of the most intoxicating and unashamedly beautiful music you'll hear in the genre.
It doesn't take Jóhannsson long to delineate the tone of what's to come, establishing an introductory theme for strings, backed with lyrical piano keys and a soundscape of seabirds and thunderclaps emerging from the mix in the latter stages. After these evocative, scene-setting beginnings comes a burst of celestial melodrama through 'City Building's choral passages, giving an indication of the lofty, unearthly extremes this composer has a penchant for. The more abstract and textural leanings of 'The Flat' take us somewhere different, flooding the track with phased, airy noise atmospheres and weightless plumes of strings. 'Rainwater' continues to sew processed electronics into the fabric of the music, reminding you that this is after all an artist who has shared a label with the likes of Fennesz.
The recurrent rumbling of deeply ingrained background static only reinforces how cinematic this music is - there's a tangible sense of place and mise-en-scene, but even beyond that, the album follows a kind of undulating structure that's very much in-keeping with the notion of a beginning-middle-end narrative; you can feel the music slipping into a sombre, minor-key mode by the end of 'The Gift', entering into the desolation of 'Dying CIty', with its processed field recordings and lone voices.
'Escape', with its dark-ambient drones and broad solo cello strokes only reinforces the suggestion of peril, but by the album's final leg glimmers of optimism creep into the denouement, first imbuing 'Inside The Pods' with a magisterial, reverberant grandeur and then reaching outright jubilation over the course of the end theme - a dose of euphoric crescendo that could only have come from the same part of the world as Sigur Rós.
The music on this album has already been awarded first prize for 'Best Original Score' at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and for our money is the finest thing he's done since his debut. Jóhannsson's just on exceptional, moving form here.