Jóhann Jóhannsson – And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees

Jóhann Jóhannsson - And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s prominence among Icelandic musicians comes from the confidently grand scope of his recent works. Either conceptually robust (IBM 1401, A User’s Manual), instrumentally robust (Virðulegu Forsetar), or both (Fordlandia), Jóhannsson has seemingly moved on from the more intimate, electronic-infused sound of his earliest work on the austere miniatures of Englabörn and the graceful and relatively playful glitch of Dís. His latest release, And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees, follows this trend, and is a mainly orchestral work soundtracking a short animated film about the encroachment of city life as seen through the eyes of a field mouse.

Though there are still electronic touches here, they are used more as atmospheric introductions or asides than as part of the compositional backbone of the pieces. Like many soundtrack works and classical musics, motifs and themes are repeated and given different arrangements to suggest different circumstances and emotions. Often, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by canned drama and sophisticated arrangements when listening to a soundtrack from front to back, but the themes here aren’t over-complicated or overwrought, and the intelligibility of And in the Endless Pause as an album benefits from the recurrences and consistencies.

The first skewed, and then simple beauty of “Rainwater” is an early glimpse of the stately finale “End Theme”, and sounds like a cleansing beacon of hope for a troubled soul to courageously hang onto. The introductory “Theme” starts small and simple, sounding like the worry of one until it is reprised in “Pods” as a more communal worry, and in “The Gift” as a warm moment of transcendence earned through perseverance. Also notable is “The Flat”, where he breaks up the reliance on traditional instruments played tastefully to focus on the orchestral dynamics of white noise and swirling waves of sound. One can imagine it setting the scene as an oddly calm but ominous rustling percolates just beneath the surface, prefacing a gut-wrenching drama which decisively changes the landscape of a situation forever. So yeah, there’s some drama here.

The narrowing of conceptual focus from the significance of technology on society to the concerns about a homeland as seen through the eyes of a small creature has given Jóhannsson a new scale to inhabit, and he does not waste the opportunity. Nowhere in his body work do you find such sympathy and empathy. Somewhat of an inversion of his two previous works, he introduces the drama through the eyes of a solitary individual, and we feel the fear, violence, envelopment, and impossibly large impersonality of systematic forces through the filter of this individual. Thankfully, we also see the response of nature and the beauty of the emotional resilience of a spirit in turmoil. Though the ability of a soundtrack album to stand independent of the cinematic narrative it is based on is often used as a point of praise, and even as And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees works very well on its own, the real praise here is how much Jóhannsson’s soundtrack makes me want to see the film that was its inspiration in the first place.

Jóhann Jóhannsson

Type Records