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Johann Johannsson Englaborn Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Reissue of the year, without a doubt.

Tim Nelson 2007

Johann Johannson, co-founder of the Icelandic Kitchen Motors arts organization and writer/producer for Marc Almond and Barry Adamson, among others, originally wrote Englaborn for Havar Sigurjonsson's Icelandic play of the same name and it was first released in 2002 on the Touch label. This is an entirely deserved reissue from 4AD of what has been described as the most beautiful music in Icelandic theatre. Englaborn is, indeed, utterly gorgeous.

Composed for string quartet, piano, organ, glockenspiel and percussion and manipulated with electronic 'backrounds', the album begins by setting Catullus's famous poem “Odi et Amo’ in a setting reminiscent of Wendy (nee Walter) Carlos, composer of Kubrick's Clockwork Orange. Here, that alienated vocal is contrasted with the rich acoustic of the strings, in the words of Johannson himself, as the 'alchemy of total opposites, the sewing machine and umbrella on dissecting table'. From there Englaborn departs for parts unknown.

The sixteen miniature pieces here have been described as a balance of emotional opposites, love and hate, reflecting the contrast between the music and the play, which is extremely violent and disturbing. Johannsson’s music is extremely nuanced, a collection of ever-changing moods moving beyond words while maintaining a profound simplicity. Shimmering, colourful and alive, it's not surprising to hear that strangers have come up to Johannsson and hugged him since hearing it. Reissue of the year, without a doubt.

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