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Classical - Released September 16, 2016 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released May 29, 2020 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Classical - Released February 28, 2020 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released November 11, 2016 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Acclaimed for film scoring in the past 15 years, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has recently become the trusted go-to collaborator for director Denis Villeneuve and his stunning pictures, 2013's Prisoners and 2015's Sicario. Now they have delivered their third collaboration, the sci-fi movie Arrival. It should be noted foremost that Jóhannsson approached the score in a traditional way, recording everything with session musicians in assorted rooms, using the effect of layering to create texture with little use of sequencers, and relying on the processing of acoustics as opposed to digital manipulation. The move has proven to be a bold one, as the score is an entirely unique contribution to the story that it's soundtracking. The opening title track sets the tone, consisting of layer upon layer of piano drones that mesh between one another, some slightly higher in pitch than others, building to one of the most gradual, ominous crescendos you've ever heard. "Heptapod B" introduces the first taste of vocal manipulation. Recorded with vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices, indistinct voices segue, meld, and layer upon one another as distant, rumbling percussion and reverberated bass wash around the central theme. "Sapir-Whorf" largely consists of the same vocals, while urgent violas cut in, giving us Jóhannsson's signature use of discordant bass tones, something that the composer has always done magnificently, transforming a stringed instrument into something that is effectively utilized as percussion. A key success with this soundtrack is the use of velocity and volume; at one point or another, every element seems to fade away into silence or give way to other instrumentation, only to unexpectedly return at certain points, completely transforming the overall timbre of the track. "First Encounter" exemplifies this well, harking back to Jóhannsson's approach with Sicario; those distinct, queasy bass strings that rise and fall unpredictably give way to a silence that is just as effective as the parts occupied by other sounds. While some tracks encapsulate ambience and awe, others are a bit more concerned with action-oriented scenes, and the overall sonic palette is something quite different and never boring. Penultimate track "Rise" delivers more of those huge, sweltering, and organic bass notes with portentous strings, while some of the record's final vocal snippets calm the mix in every other bar. Which moves on nicely into the final track, "Kangaru," where listeners are reintroduced to the vocal experimentation from earlier, yet with bright and opulent string suites drifting around the mix. Another testament to Jóhannsson is that he began writing the score as shooting of the film began -- an impressive feat considering how well Villeneuve can trust his composer to soundtrack his vision before it's even left his head. Arrival is a fantastic album and a great piece of film score work, delivering menacing, daunting cacophonies of noise that evoke all types of fear, wonder, and intrigue that are evident within the movie itself. © Rob Wacey /TiVo
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Film Soundtracks - Released April 5, 2019 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Classical - Released March 23, 2018 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Classical - Released March 8, 2019 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released September 18, 2015 | Varese Sarabande

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Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who crafted the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated piano-and-strings-centered score for the 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything, created a very different type of score for the action/crime film Sicario, released in 2015. A mix of quietly emotive, violin-led symphonic song and distorted, dissonant, percussive orchestral noise, Sicario [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] delivers tension and off-kilter anxiety in both hushed and hyper musical moments. Jóhannsson and film director Denis Villeneuve previously collaborated on 2013's Prisoners. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Classical - Released September 16, 2016 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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In the six years between And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees and Orphée, Jóhann Jóhannsson became a celebrated film composer, earning back-to-back Oscar nominations for his life-affirming score for The Theory of Everything and his ominous, rough-edged music for Sicario. During this time, Jóhannsson continued to work on personal projects including this, his Deustche Grammophon debut. In its own way, Orphée is also a little like a soundtrack: the composer drew inspiration from the story of Orpheus' ill-fated attempt to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld, building on Ovid and Jean Cocteau's versions of the tale in his meditations on death, rebirth, and creativity. The Orpheus myth reflected Jóhannsson's life while he worked on the album: his move from Copenhagen to Berlin marked the closing of one chapter in his life and the start of a new one. Like And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees, Orphée is both more intimate than some of his larger works, and immediately recognizable as Jóhannsson's. On "Flight from the City," a gentle but insistent piano motif rises and falls like breath, while strings deepen its sweet ache; layers of counterpoint inspire bittersweet wonder on "The Drowned World"; "Orphic Hymn" showcases the composer's flair for choral pieces, with Paul Hillier's Theatre of Voices performing lines from Ovid's text in Renaissance style; and "Fragment II" offers a brief burst of his grander scale with its ever-widening sea of drones and strings. This piece features Orphée's main motif, an ascending harmonic pattern that also appears on the ghostly "A Song for Europa," which introduces the staticky, numbers station-like recordings that flicker through the album, adding another layer of distance and mystery. Orphée's studies in change give equal time time to mourning and hope, whether on the spine-tingling "A Pile of Dust" or the way "A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder" and "By the Roes, and by the Hinds of the Field" dance between joy and sorrow. Similarly, Jóhannsson makes the album's chiaroscuro qualities explicit on "De Luce et Umbra," where a shadowy, almost subliminal pulse adds tension to the skyward strings, and on the Emily Dickinson-inspired diptych "Good Morning, Midnight" and "Good Night, Day," where subtle transitions evoke standing between ends and beginnings. On Orphée, Jóhannsson expresses the need to let some things and people go to let new ones in with remarkable nuance, as well as the affecting beauty fans have come to know and love. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Film Soundtracks - Released February 2, 2018 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Electronic - Released November 3, 2008 | 4AD

The second installment in Jóhann Jóhannsson's trilogy of albums about technology and iconic American brand names, Fordlandia expands on IBM 1401, A User's Manual by chronicling, among other things, the failure of Henry Ford's Brazilian rubber plant with the power of a 50-piece string orchestra. IBM, which included recordings of its titular computer, could have been gimmicky or overly conceptual, but the results were remarkably moving and personal. While Fordlandia is slightly more straightforward musically, its concepts and emotional impact are much more involved and ambitious. Fittingly, ambition is one of the album's major themes, along with failure, mortality, immortality, and technology's potential for creation and destruction. Jóhannsson depicts these dualities with portraits of great heights and, mostly, deep losses. Ford's doomed project -- which he envisioned as a utopia but ended in disaster, with rioting workers and the development of synthetic rubber, ultimately costing him millions of dollars -- provides the thematic backbone for the album's major pieces. "Fordlandia"'s strings and subtle electric guitars are never less than majestic, but move gradually and naturally from hope to bittersweet doubt over the course of 13 minutes, keeping the intimacy that Jóhannsson's work has shown since Englaborn. That bittersweetness wells into sorrow on "Fordlandia -- Aerial View"; recorded in a Reykjavik church with no edits, its aching strings and low-rumbling percussion sound equally devastated and beautiful. Fordlandia also tells equally fascinating stories of creation and destruction that are less well known than Ford's: "The Rocket Builder (Lo Pan!)" takes its inspiration from self-taught chemist, rocket propulsion researcher, and occultist Jack Parsons, building from strings to precise electronics that overtake the track with a tense, slightly sinister beauty that deepens into dread thanks to doomy guitar chords. Its foil is "Melodia (Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device Based on Heim's Quantum Theory)," inspired by German physicist Burkhard Heim, who, despite being blind, deaf, and having lost his hands in a World War II accident, devised a theory for space travel faster than the speed of light. Named after a research paper based on his work, the piece soars skyward on a looping pipe organ melody and streaming synths and strings, offering some hope among the rest of Fordlandia's gloom. "The Great God Pan is Dead" -- which alludes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems about the demigod who embodied creation and destruction for her -- crystallizes these dualities, as well as the album's profound sense of loss, with choral vocals and rain. Fordlandia's shorter pieces are nearly as heady and substantial as its major tracks: "Chimaerica"'s title blends the monster of Greek mythology with America, and its mournful pipe organ melody underscores the feeling that this album is a funeral service for the American dream. Variations on the "Melodia" theme tie the larger pieces together, appearing first as a clarinet-driven piece that evokes Ford's '20s heyday, then augmented with deep guitars inspired by Sunn 0)))'s work, and finally as a ghostly wash of strings and clarinets. Another 13-minute elegy, "How We Left Fordlandia," closes the album by uniting its concepts and musical themes in a somber but satisfying farewell. While knowing the inspiration behind the album reveals its depth, its music is more than powerful enough to be appreciated without the historical context that informs it. Beautiful, thoughtful, and sad on a grand scale, Fordlandia is nearly as ambitious as the stories it tells, but unlike its source material, it's another success for Jóhannsson. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Film Soundtracks - Released April 12, 2019 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released March 22, 2019 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

Like many composers and musicians who make primarily instrumental music, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s work has been described as filmic, and he has in fact scored several films. Still, And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees occupies a special place in his body of work. This music was written for Marc Craste’s 2008 short animated film Varmints -- which was adapted from Helen Ward’s Craste's illustrated book of the same name -- and it’s a story that fits the concerns Jóhannsson explored in works like IBM: A User’s Manual and Fordlandia with almost eerie perfection. Technology, hubris, overconsumption, and the environment all factor into Varmints’ tale of a little animal who must find a way to protect life as he knows it from an encroaching city. With the help of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, Jóhannsson covers purity and corruption, hope and despair, and the natural and mechanical worlds over the course of 37 minutes; a short-form work compared to some of his other albums. But while the massiveness of works like Fordlandia was part of what made them so stunning, And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees’ strength comes from its small size -- much like the varmint the film follows. In just over three minutes, “Theme” sketches out the fragile beauty of the animal’s bee-filled meadow and the first hints of the coming devastation; “The Flat”’s industrial drones and electronic vapor trails evoke its aftermath in just a few minutes more. Even if this isn’t among Jóhannsson’s bleakest music, it’s among his most emotional, and much more somber than most scores for animated films. Yet his approach is never cartoonish. If anything, “Entering the City”’s muted strings and harp and the beckoning pipe organ and choir of “Siren Song” are some of his subtlest pieces, making the glimpses of light and hope in “Pods” and “Rainwater” -- which sounds so fresh that it seems to carry a breeze -- all the more tantalizing. As always, Jóhannsson conveys these shifts in mood effortlessly but with great nuance. The album’s most hopeless moments, such as the almost weeping soprano vocals on “City Building (Alt. Version)” and the vast bleakness of “Escape,” come before the sunrise of “Inside the Pods”’ strings and “End Theme”’s wide-open joy, but it feels far from clichéd. And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees was originally available as a 1000-copy vinyl release on Jóhannsson’s 2009 North American tour, but many more people than that need to hear this intimate album from a composer who expresses himself more exquisitely with each work. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Pop - Released March 29, 2011 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released September 17, 2013 | WaterTower Music

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Classical - Released March 23, 2018 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Classical - Released February 28, 2020 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released April 19, 2019 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released May 29, 2020 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Film Soundtracks - Released March 15, 2019 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

On his 2005 album, Jóhann Jóhannsson continued his style-scrambling mix of impulses with the gusto evident on earlier work. The opening "Banlol Northursins" crosses everything from winsome lo-fi organ pop to space rock zone to slow and steady funk breaks and more, with an aesthetic that can best be summed up as beholden to none of these styles in particular. It makes even more sense as a result that the immediately following song, "10 Rokkstig," is a sharp, peppy electro-rock number that should be concluding a triumphant teen dramedy epic in space. The album's flow of often short, discrete songs further emphasizes a sense of the soundtrack-for-the-unfilmed movie, mood setters that work all over the map in the best of ways. There's elegant piano-led moodiness like "Já, Hemmi Minn" and "Ónefnt" that Wong Kar-Wai might kill for (especially when the latter breaks into a slow waltz groove). Meantime, songs like "Eíripídes, Og Neðtipídel," with its brawling drum punch, and deep bass growls against softer tones and bells toward the end add a peppy tinge to the tune. There's a revisiting of sounds as the album continues, but sometimes in unexpected ways -- if "Ljósrit" is the first song over again, it's a shorter and even moodier version. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about Dis is how clearly Jóhannsson embraces and then reuses so many elements of what was labeled as glitch or experimental techno for his own particular ends. It would be a disservice to say he adds heart to such music, but the more immediate embrace of sonic melancholia and sweetness on songs like "Pynnkudagur" -- yet another roll-the-credits song of the highest quality -- as piano, subharmonics, soft electronic melodies, and distant voices combine, can't be denied. © Ned Raggett /TiVo