Album: JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON – Englabörn (4AD CAD2733 2007)


I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask? I know not, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.

Roman poet Catullus’ conflicted poem known as Catullus 85 or Odi et Amo was written for his mistress Lesbia. An orchestrated version opens Englabörn with the original Latin text intoned by a robot soprano. It’s both moving and oddly chilling, transferring the original’s human turmoil to the stirrings of consciousness in artificial life. So far, so very Philip K Dick.

Englabörn originally came out on the Touch label five years ago this month. It was Jóhann Jóhannsson’s debut release, and was a written to accompany dramatist Hávar Sigurjónsson’s play of the same name. The pieces are short, and the instrumentation limited to a chamber sextet of Jóhannsson on piano and electronics with Matthias Hemstock (percussion) and the Eþos String Quartet. I don’t know anything about the play, but I’m willing to bet it isn’t a zany comedy. The Catullus poem sets the tone for some serious introspection. There are many moments of desperate sadness, such as the mournful piano scales of “Krókódíll” and the suspended violin figures of “Ef Ég Hefði Aldrei…”. At times the album reminds me of Jóhannsson’s compatriot Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson’s score for the Friðrik Þór Friðriksson film Englar Alheimsins. Although it doesn’t lean as heavily on a central motif, it has the same graceful melancholy about it. Proceedings end with a reprise of “Odi Et Amo” slowed to a crawl, not unlike HAL 3000’s final incantation of “Bicycle Built For Two” in 2001. It sounds like a missive from another world where hope is an emotion forgotten through the passage of time immemorial.

Many will listen to this 4AD reissue on the strength of Jóhannsson’s brilliant IBM 1401, A User’s Manual from last year. Englabörn doesn’t have the same breadth and scale of that record, but shares with it an exquisite sadness and scarce beauty. Hopefully Virðulegu Forsetar and Dis will be made available again soon.

1 Odi Et Amo (3:10)
2 Englabörn (1:34)
3 Jói & Karen (3:24)
4 Þetta Gerist Á Bestu Bæjum (1:02)
5 Sálfræðingur (3:49)
6 “Ég Sleppi Þér Aldrei” (2:57)
7 Sálfræðingur Deyr (3:40)
8 Bað (3:07)
9 “Ég Heyrði Allt Án Þess Að Hlusta” (2:05)
10 Karen Býr Til Engil (3:45)
11 Englabörn – Tilbrigði (1:24)
12 “Ég Átti Erfiða Æsku” (3:41)
13 Krókódíll (2:45)
14 “Ef Ég Hefði Aldrei…” (3:42)
15 …eins og venjulegt fólk (3:51)
16 Odi Et Amo – Bis (4:00)



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