JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON: The Miners’ Hymns (130701/Fat-Cat Records)


Posted on May 23rd 2011 01:08 am

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Jóhann Jóhannsson: The Miners' Hymns

The Miners Hymns
130701/Fat-Cat Records 2011
06 Tracks. 51mins00secs

Amazon UK: CD | LP | DLD US: CD | LP | DLD Boomkat: CD | LP iTunes: DLD

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s latest project, the soundtrack to the latest film by New York-based experimental film director Bill Morison, The Miners’ Hymn, is quite a departure for the Icelandic composer and musician. The film documents the working and social lives of the coal mining communities of the north of England through the use of archive footage from the BFI, the BBC and local organisations, and was premiered at Durham Cathedral as part of the city’s International Festival last year.

For his score, Jóhannsson, whose music provides the sole sound aspect of the film, incorporates elements of the region’s cultural heritage into his music, most prominently by using brass instruments extensively, evoking the traditional marching bands which continue to exist to this day. But, instead of simply transposing brass bands into his work, Jóhannsson brings in orchestral variations and gives his brass section very different roles throughout. Like on many of his records, there is a strong melancholic flavour to this soundtrack, which is conveyed with restrained, almost mournful at times, string sections upon which he occasionally adds discreet electronic textures. On these, Jóhannsson often favours the lower the end of the scale for his use of brass instruments, as to convey the hardship of mining life and the strong attachment of the mining communities to their land and lifestyle. This is particularly potent on They Being Dead Yet Speaketh, which opens with a slow organ chords progression, which is later on replicated by the brass section, at times punctuated by drums, and on An Injury To One Is The Concern Of All, a piece which grows into an oppressive orchestral outburst around its midpoint, before retreating into a sombre textural sequence.

Elsewhere, Jóhannsson brings in brighter melodies and tones to give his pieces a much more uplifting feel. On There Is No Safe Side But The Side Of Truth, this is characterised by an elegant chord progression, once again close to the piece’s midpoint, but which resonates through the whole composition. This also transpires on Industrial And Provident, We Unite To Assist Each Other, but the theme is given a more solemn feel.

Perhaps the most elegant of Jóhannsson’s compositions here is to be found on Freedom From Want And Fear. Based on a recurring brass motif, which appears to cascade down with ever more grace as it echoes itself, with only a distant drone, built from found sounds and noises, as backdrop, it is at once extremely solemn and vibrant. Closing track The Cause Of Labour Is The Hope Of The World, a piece where a powerful melody is served by sweeping orchestral work, is equally as vibrant, but Jóhannsson pulls here some particularly emotional strings, to stunning effect.

Jóhannsson’s soundtrack to Bill Morisson’s film, his first release on Fat-Cat’s sister label 130701, is a thoughtful and at times understated piece, which feeds on the musical heritage of the north of England but incorporates it in his usual lexicon. His score is restrained, yet powerful, and serves as a worthy testament to the now long-gone mining communities of the north of England.

A DVD of The Miners’ Hymns will be released by the BFI in June.


Jóhann Jóhannsson | Jóhann Jóhannsson (MySpace) | Fat-Cat Records
Amazon UK: CD | LP | DLD US: CD | LP | DLD Boomkat: CD | LP iTunes: DLD


The Miners’ Hymns trailer from Forma Arts & Media on Vimeo.

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One Response to “JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON: The Miners’ Hymns (130701/Fat-Cat Records)”

  1. carlon 27 May 2011 at 3:09 am

    I only found this by accident. By accident? I believe maybe divine assistance took me to the website. It made me cry. I have not heard music like this for a long time. Absolutely mesmerizing and so astonishing. I wait for the release of the cd and wish I could see the live performance in Durham.