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Johann Johannsson – “The Theory of Everything Soundtrack” Review

Subdued with a current bubbling under the surface...
Johan Johannsson
Johann Johannsson

Recently winning plenty of coveted awards, Johann Johannsson’s (great name) soundtrack to the motion picture The Theory of Everything is getting some very just praise. The quietly fierce soundtrack is a treat from start to end.

Opening with “Cambridge, 1963” we are treated to a solemnly sweet and endearing piano led melody that bursts into life with strings and all sorts it forms something of a main melody and stylistic choice for the soundtrack with tracks having two sides to them. “Rowing” has a beautiful harp section and then a more orchestral feeling centrepiece. The two then come together for the final thirty seconds. “Domestic Pleasures” has a quirky dreamlike quality to it. The piano and strings are beautifully baroque whilst the tuned percussion sounds like it’s plucked from LittleBigPlanet and gives it charm and angelic nature – along with a sweet bumbling. “Chalkboard” is a one minute interlude of plucked strings and classic overtures that quickly spiral from a small rumble to a rolling boulder. It also signifies a bit of a tonal change as “Cavendish lab” has a stressed string that is taut throughout and it feels like the piece is searching for something or building to a wonder. One thing that can be commented on is how crystal clear every single instrument is. It’s produced close to the ear and you can hear every nook of every note. “Collapsing Inwards” begins to layer in a brooding bass note as we signify a darker mood – the end of a moody trio that seemed to descend into deep depths of despair.

“A Game of Croquet” is far from perky but the piano returns to lead the melodies with something you’d find from a film like American Beauty. It’s simple but so achingly effective – a real favourite from the soundtrack. “The Origins of Time” continues this dual track personality with a sombre and minimalistic string opening followed by a more regal closure before “Viva Voce” takes a simple harp chord pattern and layers some strings and woodwind over the top that ebb and flow like the tide. It’s a gentle section of the soundtrack and “The Wedding” brings out the playful side with a traditional waltz with acoustic guitar, strings and glockenspiel playfully interacting with each other. “The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of” feels both classical and timeless with its majestic piano arrangement playful something that feels familiar and gentile. The woodwind and muted strings take over for “The Spacetime Singularity” as the strings sound more like keyboard synths. It’s typically spacious and airy with its high frequency notes slowly breezing by. It works well with the sad and melancholy “The Stairs” which feel like you’ve come back to land in not such a great place. “A Normal Family” brings the soundtrack back to previous motifs with the most straightforward string arrangement so far – perhaps reflecting on the purity of what normal actually is.

“Forces of Attraction” is the second track to feature acoustic guitar and so sonically partners The Wedding. I love how the guitar is recorded to make it sound like it’s glistening in light. Along with the almost stuffy piano production, the two instruments work perfectly together. “Rowing – Alt Version” recaps that theme before “Camping” takes a decidedly French/Italian sound and an unusual time signature for one of my favourite short tracks. “Coma” is less melodic and more of a collision of notes on a downward scale that allow the softer “The Spelling Board” to hit home harder with its reflective mood. “The Voice Box” see’s the glockenspiel – which has been a central character throughout – take the lead with its beautiful tones and is over too soon. “A History of Time” follows with a tick tock percussive string arrangement – it’s plodding and purposeful, if not lethargic at first. It opens up in the second half to something less bound by time and acts as a great intro for the flowing “Daisy, Daisy” which has a playful nature under its stern exterior. “A Model of the Universe” returns to a main theme for a spacious and beautiful piano and then harp rendition of the melody. It’s one of those melodies that swirls around and you can listen to it for ages without noticing or getting bored. That brings us to “The Theory of Everything” which is a more full-bodied version of the theme albeit only for a minute. “London, 1988” aims to bring us some symmetry with the opening track but although there are nuances, times have changed and so things are inherently different – this track picks from styles elsewhere in the soundtrack instead to convey a similar theme. “Epilogue” takes the French sounding camping track into an intriguing piano version and the soundtrack finishes with the harp of “The Whirling Ways of Stars That Pass” which is simple, folksy and pure.

In many ways I’m taken back to The Piano and American Beauty. Not so much because there’s iconic themes here, but the two soundtracks channel the same kind of passion, rhythm and stylistic tones. This is a lovely soundtrack, understated in many ways. It’s one to listen to mostly with some wine late at night for contemplation and reflection and it will easily make you muse at whatever your theories are for whatever you’re thinking about.

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