There's no denying it. "World" music is currently dominated by an Americanized sound. The same standard guitar, drum, and bass lineup that was so conveniently popularized during the 20th century. Sigur Ros is no different. They're Icelandic. They have drums, vocals, guitars, bass, and keyboards. And they've been compared endlessly to British and American bands.
There is, however, something suprisingly unique about Sigur Ros, immediately evident at first listen. Whether it's the hauntingly soaring vocals, the unique sounds coming out of standard instruments, or the epic build-ups, it's hard to deny that Sigur Ros is quite the adventurous band.
( ) has been labeled as bland, boring, or "ambient for the sake of being ambient". Some fans put it one step above that and simply call it "good background music". Others will tell you it's a masterpiece playing on the heartstrings of simplicity and complexness.
It's easy to see why ( ) is such a love-hate album. The conceptual art of both the music and the package will come across as genius to some and overblown to others. The sparse package contains no words (save "sigur ros" on the front sleeve). Instead, a simple pair of parentheses mark the metaphorical aspect of the contrasting album tracks.
The album contains 8 tracks (originally deemed as "untitled") with a 30 second break in between tracks 4 and 5. According to frontman Jónsi, the division is meant to further strengthen the fine line between soft and heavy. Although both halves seem fairly ambient, there is an evident difference between tracks 1-4 and 5-8. It's clear by the conceptual aspect of ( ) that Sigur Ros deserves the status of "artsy" (or perhaps "pretentious" depending on your take).
It's not enough to describe the songs as ambiently quiet and loud, many bands have experimented into both sounds before. Sigur Ros takes ambient to a different level, one in which clear melodies are present but don't distract from the mellow tone. The vocal talents of Jónsi add a clear distinction as well. The comparisons to Thom Yorke of Radiohead are numerous, but Thom Yorke hardly ever uses his eerily high falsetto in the way Jónsi does. Also, Thom Yorke has never sung in Hopelandic, Jónsi's gibberish form of Icelandic.
Although their are clear vocals sounding coherently Icelandic to the casual listener, ( ) has no lyrics credited. Imagine if Coldplay had written hauntingly beautiful melodies but no words to accompany them, and Chris Martin was left singing incoherent gibberish. That's the english equivalent of Hopelandic (named for the Sigur Ros song "Hope" in which the language was first introduced).
It's easy to categorize Sigur Ros in the same place as Mogwai, Radiohead, and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, but the truly deep listener will simply describe them as Sigur Ros. Nothing more, nothing less. A simple band with ambitious desires, a band bridging the gap between ambient and melodic, soft and loud. Although ( ) may not be the most coherent release Sigur Ros has put out, it's undoubtedly the one in which these ambitious desires are shown to their fullest.