Jóhann Jóhannsson is an artist that managed to carve out some subtlely unique ground on his first two releases. His debut Englaborn was a gorgeous gem mixing short passages of modern classical with electronic music, and last years Virðulegu Forsetar took similar sounds and stretched them out into epic tracks that evolved in subtle ways. Those looking for something similar on his newest album Dis may find themselves a bit disappointed, as this album seems to be about Jóhannsson making a pop record with friends. It's not a bad thing, just different.
The music was actually created for an Icelandic film of the same name, and members of the Funerals, Singapore Sling, Slowblow, and Trabant all join him on the batch of tracks, which veers between everything from quiet, ambient doodles to straight-up pop with vocals. "Bangkok Nordursins" opens the release with programmed beats and playful, layered keyboard melodies while "10 Rokkstig" follows it with an upbeat, prog-pop track that is easily the most straightforward thing that Jóhannsson has ever had a hand in.
In some places, the soundtrack feel comes through as motifs are repeated in different tracks with slightly varied instrumentation. "Jarðaför" mingles pretty piano, synth, and drums into a space-age jazz trio while "Ruslpóstur" takes some of the same chords and trips them out even more while the album-titled "Dis" finds singer "Ragnheidur Grondal" adding vocals to a track that is so plain and standard that sounds like it could have come off some sort of international adult contemporary compilation.
As one might be able to guess from the aforementioned sentence, the release stumbles a bit in places. Despite fifteen tracks running just over forty minutes, the album feels like it repeats itself several times and seems to noodle around quite a bit. There are several standouts, including the completely bizarre "Hîtel Borg," which starts out sounding like a tweaked-out dub track before somehow turning into an involved solo piano piece that's quite stunning. Some intriguing bits (but not nearly as developed) for fans of his previous work.