Review Summary: A wide-eyed celebration of life through music.
It’s almost as if all those nine-minute-plus compositions, sung in a nonsense tongue and eventually swelling to musical and emotional heights that practically exploded with a mix of tension and joy, have been compressed into the perfect four-minute pop song. It’s still Jonsi Birgisson, it’s still a vast palette of sounds, and it’s still that same Sigur Ros message of love and inner peace . . . except with none of the restraint that other members of Iceland’s most famous band had on Birgisson in the past. Go
is undoubtedly Jonsi
, a being of such unrelenting optimism and jubilant celebration that he apparently has rainbows shooting out of the back of his head. It’s not really surprising, considering the increasingly poppy direction Sigur Ros was heading in, but here the best attributes of Sigur Ros and Jonsi’s effervescent personality have been magnified through a multichromatic array of sounds and feelings. That post-rock standard of tension and release has been transformed, filtered through the (relatively) strict dimensions of a pop song and made into something that just wants you to stand up and be filled with joy at everything around you.
Frankly it was a miracle that this didn’t turn out to be one convoluted mess – Jonsi has never been one to contain his more grandiose impulses, and the pairing with expressive composer Nico Muhly promised a wild, perhaps out-of-control soundscape. But it does work, and to stunningly beautiful effect. Muhly deserves a ton of the credit, shaping the music around Jonsi’s voice (really, an instrument all to itself) and crafting a diverse and motley sound that ranges from swelling timpani to twee bells to the rapid bird-like flitting of various strings. It’s not a negative that the songs are ridiculously outsized and at times more epic than anything Sigur Ros has put down to record – simply put, it’s Jonsi’s incredible gift of melody and how he uses it to create some seriously honeyed hooks. What makes it stand out from your typical orchestra-happy baroque pop (like, say, the Polyphonic Spree), however, is how Jonsi seems to elevate every brilliant hook and harmony he comes up with. Check out the uplifting bridge of “Go Do,” or the last minute and a half of “Sinking Friendships,” or the gorgeous slow burn of “Grow Till Tall.” Hell, check out every song on here, and you’ll see how Jonsi somehow manages to put that Sigur Ros money shot, that climactic feeling that is impossible to describe without hearing it for yourself, into practically every larger-than-life chorus here.
Of course, perhaps a large part of that feeling is what made Sigur Ros so special to begin with – Jonsi’s indefinable voice. It’s more an instrument than any real mode of lyrical expression; indeed, although Jonsi mostly sings in English on Go
, most of the lyrics here are about as meaningful as Jonsi’s made-up Hopelandic. It’s always been about the feeling with Jonsi, and Go
is no exception. One could strip away all the fat of Muhly’s instrumentation here and still have a record of marvelous emotional power, one that connects on an almost primal level thanks to Jonsi’s ethereal pipes and their remarkable versatility. It’s what makes a song like “Tornado” a haunting condemnation rather than the rising joy it appears to be on the surface and what causes “Grow Till Tall” to evolve into such an affecting culmination of a truly arresting record.
It’s been maybe Jonsi’s greatest gift that he’s able to evoke such happiness without really saying anything of import, be it here or with Sigur Ros, and it’s what makes Go
an absolute gem. Like his previous band, it’s doing a disservice to Jonsi to describe his work with cheap adjectives, when everything he’s ever done can only really be appreciated with a working pair of ears and a heart. Music has always been about passion and emotion, speaking to the listener in the most direct way possible. Jonsi has always been able to do that, but with Go
he’s made the most focused effort of his career, one that persists without fail, from the opening wonderment of “Go Do” to the reflective comedown of “Hengilas,” in its wide-eyed celebration of life through music.