I believe I've made my obsession with Icelandic music clear in past reviews. Now, we delve into classical music from the country, in a beautifully scenic array of strings. Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has released his sixth album, Orphée - the first since 2008's Fortlândia. Combining beautiful symphonies with subtle ambience and electronica, Jóhannsson has crafted something special.
Creating classical music in the modern era is perhaps a bit of a contradiction. Still, however, it does make a statement. Modern classical music is full of expression and innovation. There's different things we can do with music today and different techniques. Most importantly, there are different experiences. Contemporary classical is all about giving the music a voice without speaking.
Orphée does exactly that. Instead of speaking, per se, it paints pictures. It creates motion in its movements and vivid details with each resonating chord. The first song 'Flight From The City' introduces the peaceful and imaginative pictures with its spacious piano and backing strings that build slowly with traces of electronica slowly pilling up behind them. 'A Song For Europa' is similar, creating a much starker experience with a greater feeling of isolation than wonder as a droning woman's voice sounds in an out-of-reach place.
The first thing you need to understand about Icelandic music is that it makes something out of nothing. The barren landscapes of Iceland are awe-inspiring, and that's clear in all of its artists. It affects people in different ways, and there's no one way to really define it. There is a core of isolationism in the music, though - when you listen, you feel alone in the music. It's you and your feelings - nothing else.
This album does a lot with that loneliness. It's a journey through the mysteries of Iceland - the volatile but incredible volcanoes in the dramatic organs and pulsing electronics of 'The Burning Mountain'; the grassy, barren plains in the electronic spirals and peaceful piano of 'By The Roes, and By The Hinds Of The Field'; and the grand glaciers in the dark string leads of 'A Deal With Chaos'. The imagery on the album is phenomenal. The dynamics of the deep basses, the high stings of violins, the cry of the pianos all working together in a tragic, captivating dance that invigorates your mind and your emotions.
Jóhann Jóhannsson is a modern genius. The layers and beauty of Orphée is stark and almost incomparable. The only complaint I have is that lots of tracks don't really resonate too deeply or don't have enough strength to them to really leave a lasting mark, but there is imagery in every corner of the record. The beautiful pictures this album paints are some you can never forget. Iceland is a beautiful mystery, as it proves again and again.
Favorite Tracks: By The Roes, and By The Hinds Of The Field; Flight From The City, Good Morning, Midnight; A Pile Of Dust
Least Favorite Track: De Luce Et Umbra
Rating: 80 / 100