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Soundtrack review: The mercy (Johnann Johannsson – 2018)

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Soundtrack review: The mercy (Johnann Johannsson – 2018)



“The Mercy” is an upcoming 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 film stars Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott, and Jonathan Bailey. Johann Johannsson wrote the score.

Ever since he was suddenly dropped from the “Blade runner 2049” project I had been dying to hear what Johannsson, one of my favourite composers, would write next. The opening cue “Flares”, is quintessential, classical JJ and one of the reasons I am so drawn to his music: it’s a whimsical ambient piece that’s just made of warmth and care, with fairy tale chiming sounds and a positivity that flows right into the next cue “Boating for beginners” which is a lovely optimistic piece that instantly makes me think of teaching my little girl something new and seeing the glimmer of discovery and joy in her eyes. I used to love Johannsson’s music when it was reflective and deep and now I am discovering the joyful, positive side of his craft and I am just in love with this score. It’s almost inexplicable how amazingly simple and touching this composition is. Is it a score for children? Is it a score for adults? Or is it simply a wonderful, timeless composition that takes the universal language of music and makes it accessible for everyone, everywhere.

The tone changes when shadows appear on “A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder”; this is where his music meets the music of another lonely genius, Max Richter. The string motif, the poignancy of the cue make me think of Richter’s own contribution to Johannsson’s “Arrival”. Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra, I didn’t know who you guys where but I got misty eyed by the end of this cue because of the tenderness and longing. I venture to say that nobody writes reflective, thoughtful ambient music like Johan Johannsson. He has carved his own niche and he will not leave it no matter what and I applaud him for it even if it means losing movies like “Blade runner 2049”. This is his art, this is his genius and I am grateful that a composer like him exists and writes music like this, here sad or dark, here joyful, here asking questions, there answering them but always meaningful, always touching.

“The mercy” is simply perfect. Every movement of the bow, every touch of the piano key, every single note carefully drawn and played is perfect; I get the feeling of exploration, of joy and fear of discovery, of failure, of apparent triumph, I get all this from the minimalistic musings of Johan Johannsson, musings that open a world of imagination around me and make the outside world immaterial. Music is all that matters and the quiet, smouldering passion that this composer pours into it reaches me with full force. I am sure it will reach you as well.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 45 / 45

Album excellence: 100%

Boating For Beginners
The Good Ship Teignmouth Electron
A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder (feat. Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra & Anthony Weeden)
Terra Firma
Into The Wide And Deep Unknown
Good Morning, Midnight (feat. Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra & Anthony Weeden)
A Sea Without Shores
Karen býr til engil (Remastered)
The Doldrums
The Horse Latitudes
The Furious Sea Of Fogs And Squalls
The Captain’s Log
The Mercy
The Radiant City (feat. The Dirac Quartet)
A Pile Of Dust (feat. Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra & Anthony Weeden)
At 19°41’10.40 North 79°52’37.83 West, Lies The Shadow

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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  1. Nicolas Cage 8th February 2018

    Thanks for posting this review.

    A lot of the music for this soundtrack is recycled from Johann’s solo albums Orphee and Englaborn. They didn’t re-record or rename the titles, I count at least 5 tracks lifted from previous releases.

  2. Roel Hendrickx 9th February 2018

    I like this score too but was surprised to learn that ar least half of the cues are “recycled from previous compositions: “Orphee”, “Free the mind”, “Copenhagen dreams” etc.
    All sequenced with care.
    And still it sounds connected although you can feel differences in mood once you are aware of them.
    Oddly, the tracks I downloaded first because of immediate appeal, turned out to be mostly the new ones (except “Pale Dust”)
    How do you feel about that?

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 9th February 2018

      I like it because it shows such a natural flow in his music and sound, no matter when he writes or what he writes for. It shows that his music is connected and modular and It’s very rare for a composer to write , well, such a universal kind of music. For me it truly sounded like the score had a narrative thread.

  3. Roel Hendrickx 11th February 2018

    RIP Johann Johannsson on Feb 9, 2018.
    Sad day for (film) music lovers.
    Your score of 10.0/10 for this soundtrack of “The Mercy” now feels like prophetic:
    as if Johannsson was never going to top this any more. Bit eerie.

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 11th February 2018

      Yeah…so strange…I also said how grateful I was that a composer like this exists and writes…very sad

    2. Mihnea Manduteanu 11th February 2018

      Yeah…so strange…I also said how grateful I was that a composer like this exists and writes…very sad

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