Review Summary: Life is beautiful. And here is the proof.
The music of Sigur Ros is a peculiar thing. It is undoubtedly one of the more polarising and distinct sounds out there, especially when one analyses the sum of the parts. They are an Icelandic quartet that features a singer that sings only in his native tongue and a scat-like language known as Hopelandic, guitar (often bowed in a Jimmy Page-like fashion) and piano that ranges from intricate and quiet movements to ocean-like crashes; and, on the occasion, orchestration with immense, rich tones that accentuate the music’s breathtaking atmosphere.
In spite of their overt defiance of format and similarity, the band has soared from Scandinavian obscurity to successes that topple a number of more radio-friendly pop and rock acts. Songs from the band’s catalogue has been used throughout mainstream media such as FIFA and the BBC. Their live performances have been known to cause euphoria, with reports of people even bursting into tears during songs. Each of the band’s releases thus far- 1997’s Von
, 1999’s Ágætis byrjun
, 2002’s ( )
and 2005’s Takk…
- has seen a rise in both devoted fan base and critical acclaim.
By taking this into context, it is plain to see Sigur Ros as a band with nothing to prove. With this in mind, the band’s fifth album is a glorious set. Not only do we find the Sigur Ros collective in their creative prime, we find a bold statement in modern music- a soundtrack to a day in the life of a conceived utopia that, at this point, resides light years beyond any other album released in the current year.
The tongue-twister title, Með suð i eyrum við spilum endalaust
, roughly translates to “With a buzz in our ears, we play endlessly”. Herein lies not only the mission statement of the band themselves at this stage- to continue on with creating music solely out of the love for it- but also the album itself. The record creates the idea of a celebration of life and the planet, a creation from the foundation of a true, unquestionable love of the concept and possibilities of music. The album, in turn, differs significantly from where we last left the band in Takk…
by establishing a much more free-form and organic sound. Með suð…
sees the band take the surprise move of choosing to mostly circumvent surrounding their music with washes of fantastical mystique or unsubtle grandiose, an aspect of the music Takk…
was especially guilty of. This time around, the Icelanders have stripped down their sound significantly, in turn creating a sound that is very intimate and starkly powerful. The album traces folk and jazz roots right down to the organic instrumentation- there is scarcely an electric guitar in sight, focusing primarily on piano and acoustic guitar at the songs’ cores. It’s almost as if this is the closest to Sigur Ros we as listeners have ever been- and it’s invariably a liberating feeling, especially upon first listen.
The album plays out as a start-to-finish journey, confidently and powerfully ranging from acoustic-based intimacies (“Illgresi”) to hard-hitting spectacles of intensely built-up yet delicately layered arrangements (the glorious movement of “Festival”). The two opening tracks present the listener with a band that is freely experimenting and testing new ground, in this case with brilliant results. The sweetly euphoric opener “Gobbeldigook” is a pain to describe using purely words, but if Radiohead created music for a tribal dance around a fire, after listening to nothing but Animal Collective, chances are one would be close to establishing its sound by listening to this song. Its successor, “Inni mér syngur vitleysingur”, is a wondrous up-tempo parade of ringing bass, chiming piano, incessant drums and heavenly vocal harmony. These tracks notably evolve and advance aspects of sound in Sigur Ros’ work that were either all too fleeting or inexistent in the band’s previous works.
Elsewhere, “Við spilum endalaust” flaunts a stylish indie rock demeanour, coming across as a unique blend of Death Cab for Cutie’s “Your Heart is An Empty Room” and the later half of The National’s “Fake Empire”. At the other end of the musical and emotional spectrum, “Fljótavik” depicts a torn, mentally exhausted human being alone at a piano, accompanied only by a distorted recording of strings, presenting a ballad of pure, unrestrained emotion. The undisputed highlight, however, comes in the form of “Ára bátur”, Icelandic for “rowing boat”. The album’s journey is personified and showcased over a breathtaking nine-minute composition that soars from lone piano to the mammoth sounds of a 64-piece orchestra, a pitch-perfect boys’ choir and glorious falsetto lead vocals. The culmination of all of these near the end of the song is, for want of a better phrase, completely and utterly epic
. It is certainly difficult just how to describe it any other way, as it builds up to an elated wash of sound that puts many movie scores to absolute shame.
Now more than ever, vocalist Jonsi Birgisson is in truly exceptional form, effortlessly swaying from piercing falsetto to a low-key whisper in a fashion similar to Thom Yorke. Even after ten years making music, Birgisson still maintains one of the most distinct and powerful voices in music today, with a delivery that thrives on contrast, intensity and raw, impassioned beauty. One does not even need to under stand the language in which the language is sung (even when this is possible, for the first time ever, on the penetratingly introspective closer “All Alright”), for the language of music, combined with the brilliant display of emotions through the vocals, is indeed universal. His fellow musicians, bassist Georg Hólm, multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason, once again paint a thoroughly detailed and beautifully arranged backdrop, emphasised further by the simply unimpeachable horns and strings. Not a single foot is placed even slightly out of line here in terms of the music itself- certainly an impeccable feat considering there’s not a solo in sight.
What we have here is a very, very important album. Með suð i eyrum við spilum endalaust
, if time serves it well, will be remembered in years to come as an exploration of the depths of experimental, progressive, alternative and, most of all, original music of this time.
Big calls? Certainly.
Hyperbole? Subjective, but a certain possibility to any reader of what has just been written.
But shall this all prove to be true? There is only one way to find out.
Press play. Stop what you are doing at the time. Take the time to listen. Once, then again, and as many times as needs be after this.
OFFICIAL SIGUR ROS DOT WIDGET: http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/band/disco/medsud-dot.php
(follow the link to the album page)