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Scores that unintentionally, now serve as a coda to Johann Johannsson's life / Synchrotones Soundtrack Review

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Jóhann Jóhannsson left this world too soon. He was born in Reykjavik in 1969 and died earlier this year in Berlin. His legacy includes a short, but impressive list of film scores such as the Golden Globe-winning Theory Of Everything, Sicario, Arrival and Prisoners. He was initially set to score Blade Runner 2049 for frequent collaborator Denis Villeneuve, but they amicably departed as Jóhannsson's score allegedly didn't fit the film. The composer also worked on Mother, but it seems that the composer himself thought the film would work much better without music. Prior to his death, Jóhannsson worked on several films whose scores, unintentionally, now serve as a coda to Jóhannsson's life.

The Mercy is a 2017 British biographical drama film, directed by James Marsh and written by Scott Z. Burns. It is based on the true story of the disastrous attempt by the amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst to complete the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968 and his subsequent attempts to cover up his failure. The Mercy is a dramatic score in Jóhannsson's typical minimalist style. Relying mostly on piano, glockenspiel, some strings and synth atmospheres, the music aches. Some of the piano-and-glockenspiel is rather upbeat; and when combined with a subtle string ostinato it fills your heart with joy. 

Back in 2002 Englabörn was Jóhannsson's first album. It was re-released in 2008 without any alterations; but a celebratory edition was scheduled (and has been released) in 2018. It's been remastered and it includes a second disc with remixes by various artists. I have to be honest and say that I'm not familiar with the original release of Englabörn and thus can't offer an opinion as to how this new release compares. This new release does sound crystal clear. The recording and mixing are of such quality that they allow you to hear every tiny little detail in the composer's music.

Whilst adding the finishing touches to this article, I'm listening to his album Orphée. It dates back to 2016 though it feels like it came out just yesterday. It's such a beautiful album; I'm fighting back tears. As quoted earlier, much of Jóhannsson's music sounds like an ending, a prelude to an end or an aftermath. It often inhibits a sense of loss, to convey the deepest and darkest of emotions where words and conventional music fail. His compositions are often minimal, his arrangements sparse, but there is nothing simplistic about his music. He had a unique ear for harmonies, melodies, for juxtaposing instruments and for combining the acoustic with the electronic. His music doesn't really sound like others' (though others sound like him), and it doesn't always evolve or resolve in traditional ways. There's a serenity about his music, something timeless and inevitable – like gazing at the stars at night.  His voice is missed.

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