Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson has built a sizable reputation on the basis of his beautiful, haunting scores that combine classical instrumentation (string quartet, brass quintet, string orchestra) with electronics. The Miners’ Hymns will not disappoint his fans, and, in fact, the piece’s grand finale may leave some wondering what he can possibly do for an encore.
This album is a lush, tonal, brass-heavy soundtrack to the contemporary silent film of the same name by Bill Morrison, whose works usually involve the manipulation of older, “found” footage. (Morrison’s Decasia, built from decaying silent film stock with a score by Michael Gordon, is probably his best-known film.) In this case, The Miners’ Hymns looks back silently, and with some evident affection, at the mining culture of Durham, in northeast England. A part of that culture was the so-called colliery bands – essentially, brass bands that seem to have inspired Johannsson’s choice of instrumentation. The score features 16 brass instruments as well as organ, synthesizer, drums and electronics, with the latter three often subtly and sparingly deployed. What Johannsson captures is the quiet dignity of a group of people whose lives were hard but who had a strong sense of community and a love of music. “They Being Dead Yet Speaketh” is built on a slowly-moving set of chords, and stakes out the emotional territory of the score. “Industrial and Provident, We Unite To Assist Each Other” is a brooding soundscape, worth downloading if only to prepare you for the march to the majestic finale, “The Cause Of Labour Is The Hope Of The World,” where Johannsson’s massed forces finally come together in a grand and eloquent conclusion.