Jóhann Jóhannsson at Lincoln Hall / by Doyle Armbrust

Often in thrillers—and every movie M. Night Shyamalan ever made—there’s that eureka montage in which the main character realizes his whole reality is a lie. At that moment, the soundtrack ominously swells. With expansive string cascades and spectral electronics, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson frequently dwells in this territory, especially on his latest, And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees, his original score to Marc Craste’s animated film Varmints.

Like 2008’s Fordlandia before it, Endless Pause unapologetically embraces melodrama, eschewing exposition for sweeping intros and outros that render make-out sessions in a downpour as perfectly logical. If the effect borders on the nostalgic, the writing is anything but sappy. The 41-year-old’s string arrangements are sophisticated and exactingly recorded, brought to the forefront by the lack of vocals, and the interweaving of acoustic and electronic elements is remarkably seamless.

For his current tour, Jóhannsson has hired Clarice Jensen, Keats Diefenbach, Yuki Numata and Ben Russell of New York City’s in-demand ACME (also found on Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest) to bring a live string element and offer more visual stimuli than a dude twisting knobs. Atmospheric film scores don’t always lend themselves to compelling live concertgoing experiences, but as one of the founding members of Iceland’s performance-oriented, cross-genre, interdisciplinary art collective Kitchen Motors, Jóhannsson will leave the Lincoln Hall crowd sonically mesmerized and visually transfixed. And perhaps eager for some slow-motion running on the way home.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on May 5th, 2010