Review Summary: Greatness yet again.
I often forget that Sigur Rós is indeed a vocal-led band. For this rather sheltered American suburban kid, it’s easy to see why, as Jón Birgisson sings in Icelandic, a language spoken by just over 300,000 people, or in “Hopelandic”, a language spoken by himself but felt by anyone who hears him sing in it. Especially while singing in Hopelandic, Birgisson’s voice sounds both incredibly human and incredibly ambiguous at the same time. Perhaps this is what makes ( )
the band’s magnum opus to date, as he sang in Hopelandic the entire album. With the release of Takk…
, however, the band took a new direction. As their popularity rose, they released singles and composed music just slightly more accessible. Birgisson began singing in Icelandic again, the music involved more guitars, and textures were pushed aside for melodies. More listeners caught onto the powerful talent of this band, and they embarked on a world tour, playing in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia among other places. Not to seem elevated or elitist, they returned to native Iceland and played surprise live shows for anyone who would listen.
This infatuation with home led to the release of Hvarf/Heim
and the film Heima
, which showed another side of the band, one of spontaneity and a boundless ability to adapt to different environments. With this mindset of taking chances and using impulse to create music, they went into multiple studios, including Abbey Road in London and their home studio in Iceland, to compose með suð i eyrum við spilum endalaust, or with a buzz in our ears, we play endlessly. While a song like “Gobbledigook” took studio precision to create, the majority of the album relies on this spur-of-the-moment philosophy. In fact, “Ára Bátur”, which includes the band, a boy’s choir, and a full orchestra, was recorded in one take. In the album’s more exposed sections, the music has an aimless sense about it, as if the desperation conveyed by its desolation will have no ending.
Despite these moments of unbearable loneliness (such as the fragility of Birgisson’s voice in “All Alright”, the first English song of his career), the overall mood of …endalaust
is the most glorious and hopeful the band has ever been. “Inni mér syngur vitleysingur” revolves around a dainty xylophone melody and the same driving percussion that propels “Gobbledigook,” and its final resolution could have been the best climax of the album if not for the sheer power of the 90-person ensemble of “Ára Bátur.” With a powerful brass section vying for prominence over the already stated main melodies, it is by far the most joyous moment on the album. Yet that overshadowing climax in “Ára Bátur” is the perfect example of a band doing what they do best in the largest capacity possible. The first half of the song is more of the understated desolation mentioned earlier, but suddenly the piano takes a new direction with pulsed downbeats. Slowly, the orchestra adds their way in, and the choir takes over Birgisson’s melody, and finally, with one swell of the cymbal, the full potential of Sigur Rós’ talent breaks loose.
For most bands, “Ára Bátur” makes for a perfect ending. This album takes a different approach to the ending, however. That climax is indeed the final and most epic climax on the album. The next four tracks bring the mood of the album down, and with the exception of “All Alright”, don’t do so in the aimless fashion of the beginning of “Festival.” “Illgresi” is, for the most part, just Birgisson and an acoustic guitar, although support from perennial backing string quartet Amiina arrives halfway through the song. “Straumnes”, if but a brief interlude, returns to the subtle texture-based origins of the band. In the broad scope of the entire album, the way it ends is its most subliminally powerful aspect.
But in the even broader scope of Sigur Rós’ career, með suð i eyrum við spilum endalaust
does not surpass their previous achievements, although it indeed deserves to rest among the rest of the band’s back catalogue. It stands out from their previous works both in the spontaneity in which it was conceived and in the pure, real sounds that permeate the album. Despite the trippy “Gobbledigook” and the spacey ending to “Suð i eyrum”, most of the album uses acoustic instruments as opposed to the keyboard and guitar effects that dominated their previous work. In this transformation, Sigur Rós have yet again set themselves apart from the rest of the music world, bridging genre gaps and inspiring many others to do the same.