The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

A Kind Of Visceral Quality: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Favourite Records
Karl Smith , October 27th, 2016 10:38

With the imminent release of his score for Arrival, the latest in a now thriving partnership with Denis Villeneuve that will see him take on Blade Runner next year, the Icelandic composer shows traditional reluctance in crafting a list of defining albums and opts instead of 13 works that exemplify a philosophy of minimal gestures with maximum impact

2531603f60d99adfe8b37e4b463a0ff3

Ces Gens-Là
I have a slight obsession with Jacques Brel. I’ve listened to him for a very long time: I speak French very well and have a special affinity for his lyrics and his songwriting and the theatrical way that he performs. If you’ve seen videos of him, he’s almost like an actor performing a character.

It’s interesting – time and time again in these lists Serge Gainsbourg crops up but Jacques Brel doesn’t get the time of day.

You know, I love Serge Gainsbourg as well – he’s wonderful in his own way. But Jcaques Brel is diferent – he’s another generation: he’s less cool in a way, but he’s written songs that are deeply philosophical – metaphysical. I guess most people in the English-speaking world are familiar with them through Scott Walker adaptations or bizarre things like ‘Seasons in the Sun’, which most people don’t even realise is a Jacques Brel song. Nina Simone did a wonderful version of ‘Ne me quitte pas’ also, and Marc Almond has been a very prolific interpreter of his music as well. And it’s very hard to interpret Jacques Brel – it’s not for everyone and it’s easy to do it very badly.

How did you first come to his music?

Even though I lived in France as a child, I think my way into Jacques Brel was through Marc Almond and his covers of songs like ‘The Lockman’, for example – and Scott Walker at the same time, really. And then I went back to the source: these songs are very different in French than they are in English – they have different connotations. Not to say that they’re better, some of these translations are very good – particularly ‘The Lockman’, for example, which one of the great suicide songs. It’s a really harrowing and very deeply metaphysical and philosophical song, you know? It’s like pure existentialism. A crash course in existentialism in three minutes.


If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.