Review Summary: The tracks have no names. Every song is over 6 minutes long. No one understands the lyrics. Typical, but the best of its kind.
I have never been brought to tears by music, a movie, or a book. No, not even the last Harry Potter. However, that’s not to say I’m emotionless or that I do not understand what I am listening to; those who know me find me emotional to a fault. I can recall two times where music nearly brought me to tears. Once was with dredg’s El Cielo, particularly the end of “The Canyon Behind Her.” I had listened to that album countless times, and I still do not know whether the planets aligned or the air was just the right temperature, but the music affected me in such a profound way that night. The second came on New Year’s Eve, at my father’s house. I had this album playing, and the song was “Untitled 3.” At the time, my father was drunk, fighting with his just as drunk friend. As the voices rose, the music rose in the same, unwavering crescendo, as if some force intended for these two unrelated events to happen simultaneously. I would like to say that I was strong, and shrugged off the fighting, the yelling, and the atmosphere of a friend lost. I didn’t cry, right? No, instead I curled into a little ball and waited out the storm.
After this experience, I have come to adore “Untitled 3”, and consider it one of the best songs ever created, among the likes of the “The Canyon Behind Her” and Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” I could sit here and dissect the song in a lengthy five paragraph essay, telling about how the melody somehow never gets swallowed by the ever-growing chordal undercurrent, or the soaring French horn suspensions and releases hidden throughout the song, or how the most beautiful part of the song comes after the climax, where the song finally lets go and there is silence. I could tell you what I think it means when the melody shoots up an octave, but I will spare you the boring pretentiousness. “Untitled 3” is just a song on this large, 71 minute album, and speaking of pretentiousness, ( )
has no titles and is sung in a language no one understands. Overdone? Maybe, but to date no one has done this idea better. With the idea in mind that the listener should derive their own titles, their own images, and their own meanings from each song and the album as a whole, ( )
presents an expansive, open atmosphere where what the song emotes depends on the listener’s mood. In other words, titles do these songs no justice.
Still, the album always conjures brilliant imagery, like a cold, snowy day in winter or a warm fireplace. Like plodding down a deserted street or rushing through the middle of the city. Like mourning over a lost loved one or finally meeting a new love. Sigur Rós composed the album with the idea that the first four tracks would represent hope and the last four would represent depression. The first half dominates the second half; maybe because the band’s name means “victory rose” and a song of hope might suit them better. No matter what side of the album is playing, there is always a feeling of solemnity about the music. The band utilizes a dominating, all-encompassing sound of lush keyboards, guitars played with all kinds of delay and reverb effects, sometimes with a cello bow for extra effect. The string quartet Amiina joins the band on the album, and their presence makes the album so much better. A full string quartet adds more completeness to the overall sound. At this point, the foundation is set for a great, albeit typical post rock sound. Lead singer Jón Þór Birgisson is often described as “Thom Yorke mixed with a choir boy”, and while that description is accurate, he seems a bit more angelic, almost alien due to the production style and his nonsensical “Hopelandic” language, like soulful scat singing.
Starting with the warm keyboard intro to “Untitled 1”, the band demonstrates the atmosphere, structure, and general sound of the entire album, with Birgisson taking a prominent role in the song. He shows his best performance on the album with this song, steadily climbing into his falsetto, where his voice sounds almost childish. Matched with the sparkling bells and swirling atmosphere, there couldn’t be a better voice for the part. The entire song revolves around a central piano theme, introduced near the beginning of the song, a technique the band instills often. “Untitled 4” proves an exception to that rule, with the song beginning with epic, timpani-esque drums and soaring guitars. Birgission gives another great performance, but the song reaches its best point when it changes character for a brilliant piano melody. “Untitled 8” also changes character throughout, and proving a climax for the entire album at its close. The build is characteristic of any other post-rock build, with a bit more energy than usual. The climax itself finds the band actually touching their distortion pedals and the drummer showing off the talent he never gets to show.
While throughout the review, I’ve been describing the album as if it were a classic, like a perfect album. There are things that keep it from a 5/5, most notably the fifth song on the album. It introduces the second half of the album, the melancholic side, and it serves that purpose well. Unfortunately, it is a boring, anti-climatic song. It stays extremely quiet for most of it, and while it does have a climax, it is still boring and does not justify the rest of the song. The slow tempos of the album get tiring, and for most of the album the band utilizes very little variety in their sound. However, “Untitled 6” showcases the bowed guitar style at its fullest, and it provides a sweeping, full sound different from the rest of the album, yet still maintaining that same atmosphere. If anything, ( )
should be remembered as a masterfully atmospheric album, always full, entrancing, and expansive. Without this aspect to the album, ( )
could end up as just another post-rock album, although most of the songs themselves are well-written. Sigur Rós prove themselves as fantastic producers as well as musicians. It serves as a great introduction to the genre and still, after fully plunging into the limited world of post-rock, it stands out among its best albums.