Glaciers. Fjords. Vanilla Skies. Mountains. Clouds made of Viva Puffs. These are all hyperbolic analogies for Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros. Well, maybe not that last one but a man can dream can’t he? Essentially I just want to throw those images out the window at the very start so we can’t actually discuss the band and their music itself. Not to say that these images are not apt, certainly the band can creak along with the beauty of a glacier; and you better look the *** out when some of that ice crashes off. But I digress, and for monotony’s sake I will diverge from further comparisons to any more natural phenomenon. To put it simply, Sigur Ros make really, really pretty music that can be both intimate and expansive; subtle and epic. Sophomore effort Ágætis Byrjun
is perhaps the best example of this, with the epic “Viõrar Vel Til Loftárasa” to the very personal beauty of the title track. ( )
is the untitled third album and major label debut for the group and like the album title (or, err, lack thereof), all the tracks are also untitled. Instead of “labeling” their music, the band want the listener to implement their own story and images over these sprawling soundscapes. A cerebral exercise to open up the imagination of the listener.
And I call bull***.
But all this doesn’t matter because lets face it, nobody listens to Sigur Ros to be challenged by the music. No; we listen to Sigur Ros to feel happy, or cry, or sleep, or do homework. Their musical validity doesn’t rest on how ‘good’ their music is, but how well it emotes with the listener. How can the listener attach him or herself to the sounds being relayed to them. At its strongest ( )
is sweepingly dramatic and emotionally breathtaking. Who doesn’t get teary eyed at the climactic octave jump at the end of “Untitled 3"? Or feel the utter warmth literally run trough their body in the infinitely gorgeous opener? This type of strong connection translates into a wonderful listening experience and the length of these tracks feel warranted and necessary. They find the right balance of tension and release that doesn’t feel forced or contrived. These songs flow naturally and this is what creates such a euphoric experience for the listener. Of course, not all the album is so successful.
Save for the rather aimless drift of “Untitled 2", the first half is by far the more successful of the parentheses. This leads to the main issue with ( )
– it’s really boring. The last four tracks all follow the same pattern, building from ominous drone to earth shattering climax. While at times these crashing finales are all shades of beautiful, as with the pinging keyboard tones at the end of “Untitled 6", they ultimately feel derivative. The end is becomes obvious from the get go, and when that end can be upwards of 13 minutes away, that presents a real problem. “Untitled 5" is perhaps the worst offender of this as it slowly builds its drone in anticipation of something crushing. When that “crushing force” arrives, it feels so uninteresting that the whole experience results in a 10 minute track that completely loses any momentum gained from the more interesting first half. The album struggles to regain that sense of emotional weight and almost never succeeds at all. But then there’s that last track.
And oh what a track that is. “Untitled 8" closes the album in the most epic fashion possible, slowly building from more droning atmospherics to an absolutely hair raising explosion of a climax. It takes the same formula from the past three tracks and actually makes it work. It easily stands heads and shoulders above the rest of ( )
, which is somewhat of a shame. We’re given glimpses into the album that could’ve been, which is much better than what is actually produced. A few standout tracks lift an otherwise dreary uninteresting album into a better place. The booklet on the inside of the album is blank aside from a few superimposed images of trees and shrubs so as to further progress the “idea” of the untitled record. Sure it might “progress the idea” or maybe it just shows that the band don’t have that many ideas of their own. Now, I'm off to eat some Viva Puffs.