Night in with some wine for this one. One of the greats of modern classical, Johann Johannsson, returns with a new studio album after 6 years of soundtracks and collaborative efforts. Cinematic and immersive, Johannsson uses electronics, ambient textures and drones around masterful piano and string pieces. For fans of Max Richter, Nils Frahm, A Winged Victory for the Sullen.
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Based around the enduring legend of music and love that is the Orpheus myth, you would expect Johannsson’s first studio album in six years to be appropriately tender and emotive. It is. The story has it that Orpheus was a supremely gifted musician and poet; that he could charm all living things and even stone with his music. I’m not saying the Icelandic composer’s music can live up to this standard, but at times it comes mercurially close. It’s all very charming.
The album introduction comes in the simple but haunting form of ‘Flight From the City’ with its elegant piano and sparse strings. Johann was inspired by impressionistic film-maker Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée -- the poet lives in postwar Paris and is listening to strange voices on the radio -- and the record is peppered with sketches of instrumental poetry. The disembodied voices floating amongst the electronics and melodies make sense, such as on ‘A Song for Europa’.
The strings are heartbreakingly mournful, as on ‘A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder’. Serene organ transports you away to another land and time on ‘Fragment 1’. The piano is like a drink of cool, clear, fresh water as feather-light electronics and harmonious strings bring a moment of relaxation on ‘By The Roes, and by the Hinds of the Field’. Snippets of alien (Spanish) radio voice come back in amongst the elegiac piano and lilting ambience of ‘The Radiant City’. Electronic bloops intersperse the organ and strings on ‘The Burning Mountain’. There is even a vocal ensemble in there. A stunning record.
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