Jóhann Jóhannsson: Dís
The Worker's Institute

Go to Jóhann Jóhannsson's site and you'll see one lugubrious looking dude staring back at you, a dour image consistent with the Icelandic artist's Touch album Virðulegu forsetar, an hour-long orchestral exercise in Gothic architectural austerity. Which makes Dís all the more jarring—not unwelcomingly—for being so charmingly cheerful. Based on music written for the Icelandic film of the same name (director Silja Hauksdottir's debut), the fifteen-song collection packages the film's themes into succinct melodic song structures.

Delicate melodies etched by piano, glockenspiel, organ, and synths float breezily through the 43-minute album, with Jóhannsson aided by members of Reykjavik bands Funerals, Slowblow, and Trabant plus Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jennsson and, on one song, Icelandic singer Ragnheidur Grondal. Though the songs' moods range between light-hearted joy and melancholy (more predominantly the latter), recurring themes bring unity to a collection that otherwise could sound disparate, given the contrasting instrumental configurations that occasionally appear; the indie-guitar rock stylings of “10 Rokkstig,” for instance, can't help but sound anomalous amidst the slow piano balladry of “Jarðaför” and bright synth melodies of “Hótel Borg.” In general, Jóhannsson courts a dreamy electronic sound whose melodic sparkle variously recalls Lali Puna and Múm more than Touch artists like Biosphere. Highlights?: “Þynnkudagur,” where Jóhannsson pairs glitchy Raster-Noton textures with sweet synth melodies; “Flugeldar,” whose mournful, Sigur Rós-like piano theme is particularly lovely; and “Dís,” a lovely pop construction boosted by Grondal's yearning vocal. Dís may be a surprising work from Jóhannsson but it's also a delightful one.

October 2005