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Virðulegu Forsetar

Jóhann Jóhannsson
Virðulegu Forsetar

It was just over a year ago (quite some time after the album had been release, mind you) that I discovered the beauty that was Jóhann Jóhannsson's first album Englaborn. The release was basically comprised of a series of shorter classically-based tracks that unfolded over short periods of time and bloomed like small flowers. It was a gem of a release and something that I wish I'd tracked down much sooner. Although it made its live debut last year in Iceland, Virðulegu Forsetar is his follow-up release and it's much larger in scope than his previous release both in terms of length of tracks and overall concept.

Instead of tracks that run five minutes or under, this newest release is comprised of four movements, the first three-quarters of which clock in at 14 minutes and the last of which runs well over 20. Composed for an eleven-member brass section, percussion, organs, piano, and electronics, the piece is a sprawling piece with a repeating motif that is both elegaic and slightly melancholy (or perhaps that's just my interpretation of it). Opening with a three-note melody that sounds for a slight moment the beginning of the 2001: A Space Oddesey theme, the track moves in the opposite direction towards something much more subtle.

The release is actually quite repetitive, but like many good classical pieces, it's the small changes that make it so lovely. As the repeating motif is played, the piece very gradually slows down towards the middle section, until it's much slower than at the beginning. Listening to the release, this change is barely felt, as the entire thing becomes so immersive that it actually feels like your body systems have slowed slightly and it's just keeping time. In-between the repeated motif are rumbles of dense low-end offset with sparkling chimes and piano, and the dynamics between the two registers blur the progress of the track even more.

As the album moves past the halfway point, it again slowly increases in pace, and once again it's something that's barely perceptible. As the sounds of lighter percussive elements and almost hopeful piano notes are struck, the track moves from a more downcast feel to one of hope. It's as if the span of 12 hours (from light to dark to light) are compressed into this one 65-minute piece and the final moments are the cracking of the dawn and the look forward to something possibly/hopefully/wishfully better. Maybe I'm just looking for meaning in the music given the events that have taken place in the past months, but I'll take it wherever I can find it. Along with Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks, this is another stunning modern classical release of 2004.

Rating: 8.25