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.
Orphée, the latest album by the Icelandic composer and filmmaker Jóhann Jóhannsson is billed as his first studio album in six years since the somber and excellent The Miners’ Hymns. But during that time Jóhannsson has released eight records—three of which were scores to major films (including Sicario & The Theory of Everything) and the rest music for smaller film projects, one of which Jóhannsson directed himself. But with even The Miners’ Hymns itself serving as a score to a film, the particular criteria for which Jóhannsson deems a record to be a “studio album” as opposed to a “film score” is somewhat unclear.
Jóhann Jóhannsson is best known as a film composer. More recently, he may be best known as the future composer of the sequel to Blade Runner. His film work ranges from the melodic and pleasant (The Theory of Everything) to the suspenseful (Sicario) to the just plain epic in scope (The Miner’s Hymn). He is skilled in this craft.
“There are two ways of telling a story,” said Harrison Birtwistle, who was long preoccupied with the Orpheus myth. “One is to tell it because people don’t know it and the other is to tell it like a child’s story – to retell it.” Icelandic film composer Jóhann Jóhannsson joins the grand tradition of composers (Monteverdi, Gluck, Birtwistle, Anaïs Mitchell) who have retold the legend of music’s ability to charm monsters and gods – though for Jóhannsson the tale is about “change, mutability, death, rebirth”. It’s his first official studio album in six years and it marks a move to Deutsche Grammophon’s branch of ambient indie-classical grandeur.
Jóhann Jóhansson — Orphée (Deutsche Grammophon)It’s encouraging to find a dark landscape illuminated even by a single ray of light. Briefly, much of the music we call “Classical” has taken on the worst elements of “Pop. ” In the name of minimalism and drone, we are now inundated by compositions whose regressive vapidity is mitigated only by decent production, which is what I expected and feared from Orphée, Jóhann Jóhansson’s Deutsche Grammophon debut.