Based on the strength of my first listen to the album-titled opening track from Jóhann Jóhannsson's new Fordlandia, I was ready to launch it far up my often-morphing "best of 2008" list. When the woodwind curls of "Melodia (I)" followed, I was wooed even further. Following the more epic IBM 1401 - A User's Manual and Virðulegu Forsetar, Fordlandia is much more straightforward and concise, with what is essentially three separate suites of music that are largely broken down into more digestible pieces.
The epic bookends of the release are the aforementioned "Fordlandia" and "How We Left Fordlandia," both of which run almost fifteen minutes. Put together, they start powerfully, with the title track building up from silence into a massive stunner that tugs and tugs with constantly unfolding major-key elements. It's grandiose and a bit on the sentimental side, but its as powerful as anything on the entire release, while each of the other related pieces both feel like major comedowns (understandably so, especially in the finale).
Other than one exception, the "Melodia" pieces are all shorter, playing out slightly different instrumentation (the dancing woodwinds of "Melodia (I)" to the crackling minimal piano and strings of "Melodia (III)"). "Melodia (Guidelines For A Space Propulsion Device)" is the only odd one out, a nearly ten-minute opus that mixes in some of the most overt electronics (louder programmed beats) on the release and frankly suffers because of it, sounding almost instantly dated.
There's also a melancholy triptych dealing with Pan, and "The Great God Pan Is Dead" is the standout, with another slowly-building piece that wraps together droning bass, quivering strings and a chanting choir before dissolving into quiet church-like organ. In the end, there's a fair amount more musical variety on Fordlandia, but at the same time it doesn't hold quite the emotional resonance that past releases from Johannsson have had, largely because the music on the release feels much more obvious. It's still a solid release, just not as outstanding as the past few from the artist.