Review Summary: Johannsson keeps his ambition in check, leading to his most consistent, fully realised album to date.
Henry Ford, the owner of the Ford Motor company in the US, was fed up with the prices he had to pay for the rubber used in his companies tires. The obvious solution for such a millionaire was to bypass suppliers and create his own rubber supply, however he was uncomfortable with workers conditions in the optimal locations. Which is when the thought struck this benevolent tycoon, he could improve their conditions. He could bring America to them. He could create a small town in the Amazon for these workers, bring them American cuisine, American entertainment, improve their quality of life. He could create a utopia. He would dub this utopia; Fordlandia
An understanding of the demise of Fordlandia
is an integral part of understanding and appreciating Johannsson's album with the same name. Taking similar themes of integration and assimilation from IBM 1401, A Users Manual
, but spinning a mournful tale rather than a hopeful one, Johannsson corrects the flaws contained within his previous work. In IBM 1401
, the composer had his sights set high, throwing several ideas into each song to try to communicate all his feelings regarding a subject that was very important to him, but this often damaged the emotional impact of the pieces. His ideas weren't given room to breathe, and while the album was endearing, this prevented the album from reaching the heights of many orchestral contemporaries.
His compositional style certainly suits the melancholy tone found here, and the broadening of his emotional palette is very noticeable. Opening track 'Fordlandia' ascends slowly from a minute of near silence, introducing light electronic flourishes as the unobtrusive strings rise and fall, signifying the narrative's optimistic beginnings. However, alongside the narrative's sudden arrival of roadblocks in the path to utopia, the music abruptly shifts gears. Electronic flourishes become eerie echoes and create a tense atmosphere in 'The Rocket Builder (Io Pan!)', leading to one of the most memorable moments of the album, where every instruments drops out for 5 seconds before a soft lullaby tune begins repeating, slowly being layered over with dark piano lines, melancholic strings and electronic rumblings.
Whether it is the choral hymns in 'The Great God Pan Is Dead', or the mournful organ in 'Chimaerica', Johannsson is aiming for variation. Many of the shorter 'Melodia' tracks give an admirable performance, containing very simple musical motifs that can fully resolve themselves in just a couple of minutes and ensure the listeners interest never wanes throughout the centre of the album. However, while the composers decision to give his ideas room to breathe created his most well-rounded album to date, there are occasions where an idea simply takes too long to realise itself. Penultimate track 'Melodia (Guidelines For A Propulsion Device...)' is a prime example of Johannson keeping his ambition in check, ensuring the musical ideas stay concise and focused, building tension and successfully reaching the highest points of the album. However 15 minute closer 'How We Left Fordlandia' simply aims too high. It has an appealing core melody, but it wanes and meanders throughout it's slow and steady rise to the peak, a gripe that can be found in each of the 'Fordlandia' trilogy of tracks through the album.
This album perfectly encapsulates Johannson's goals with his concept albums, communicating the narrative's emotions perfectly without bloating it's run time with unnecessary ideas. Combining the best facets of each of his other works and correcting the majority of their faults, Fordlandia
stands as Johannson's defining work, and a poignant statement in the modern orchestral world.