Artist – Johann Johannsson
Album – The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black – Single
Year – 2006
Genre – Electronic/Orchestral/Avant-Garde
Once in a while, a song comes around that captures a feeling or emotion in such a potent, yet incredibly simple way that you’re speechless. For me, I have never come across a song that captures the complexity and simplicity of heartbreak and loneliness like Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s “The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black.” It’s incredibly short, yet immensely potent lyrics mixed with an overwhelming and sweeping orchestral score and haunting robotic vocals make this song a very emotional and moving experience to hear.
The song just starts with Johannsson’s vocals run through a vocoder to create an eerie, robotic sound to his voice. Since we start with that, let’s bring up the lyrics. The words are adapted from a poem by Dorothy Parker, and this one phrase repeats from beginning to end:
The sun’s gone dim
and the sky’s turned black
because I loved her
and she didn’t love back
So simple. So elegant. So beautiful. When you are heartbroken, the whole world just falls into shades of grey, and life loses a lot of the wonder and joy that you feel when you are with a lover or partner. You become a different person with them. A better person. When you lose them, you lose that piece of yourself that made you better, and life starts to fade away for a while. The same goes for the lonely. When you feel as if no one wants your love or sends your affection back at you, you feel that much of the joy of life you could be experiencing with another is lost. There are so many things in life that are happy and wonderful on their own, but are multiplied tenfold when shared with someone special. It’s hard to explain, but the lack of someone in your life can tarnish the brightness of each day that passes. Of course this is not the case for everyone, but for many, including myself, these lyrics hit my nerves full force and resonate through my whole being. I can say that at least where I’m at right now, these lyrics are a spot on reflection of a lot of my days. And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.
Phew. Ok, sorry to have gotten a little heavy there, but when I get passionate about great lyrics, I have to tell the world what they mean to me. I can only hope the world finds a little bit of common ground with my interpretation. Anyway, moving on.
The melody in Johannsson’s voice is melancholic and haunting, but subtle and emotional despite the vocoder. You can feel the sadness and desolation in the dragging out of each word and the slow, dragging pace. It’s as if each breath and word is labored and said through tears. Electric tears, but still tears.
The real power of the song lies in the vocals combining with the orchestration. The orchestra is subtle at the beginning to pull you in, and then there’s a gradual crescendo of bells and more strings. After the first passage, there’s a gorgeous choral passage with a repetition in the melody, but this time with a whole string section and wonderful bell accents. It paints a loving picture, but certainly one tinged with sadness.
During the second passage, the strings get louder and the emotional intensity ramps up. It’s here where you really feel each word and grasp the true pain and agony of the lyrics. Then, there’s an out of this world soprano solo over loud and bombastic strings and a sweeping melody that just carries you away. There’s no fighting it now, you’re officially drowning in the beauty at this point.
Johannsson does a brilliant job at capturing both the joy and pain of love as the elation of the soprano fades into a scream, as love often transitions into great despair. This begins my favorite part of the piece, as there begins a descending piano and string melody that just rams your heart full force, and from there a plethora of different strings parts. A quick, urgent rush of violins leads into a final lush blanket of strings that hovers in the air like a mist and closes the song on a positive note. Even though the instruments are sad, the sense that there is always hope for the future is evident in the beauty of it all. It’s a final flip to the two sided coin of life, and it packs a hell of a wallop.
A song like this just resonates on so many levels. It’s an experience that will be different for all who listen, so the most I can say is that you need to listen to know what it means to you. It absolutely is a brilliant piece/song, and it makes me want to hear more of Johannsson’s work in the future. This man knows how to craft a mood piece with the best of them.
Thanks for reading, and I would appreciate any comment you guys have on the song or any interpretations to the lyrics regarding your own lives. Don’t forget to share the music!