Review Summary: An all-over-the-place attempt at avant-pop ranging from sporadically successful to baffling and obnoxious.
Sigur Rós had their existence tested in numerous ways since the release of Kveikur in 2013. These events included the exits of two long time band members and dealing with tax fraud allegations that was apparently caused by their accountant, the case being dismissed in October 2019. The band’s creative output has been in a laid back state, comprised of various ambient/orchestral side projects and singles throughout the 2010s. It’s unclear whether their signature band sound will ever return, but Jónsi and co. appear to be in in an exploratory phase.
, a stark departure from the previous, highly optimistic Go
from 2010 that fit the style of where Sigur Rós were at the time. Ten years later, he’s followed up with this wholly different release, sounding not dissimilar to artists like James Blake and Bon Iver. Unfortunately, there are numerous off-putting qualities never before heard from Jónsi, in his solo work or elsewhere. A.G. Cook, apparently known for his “dense, chaotic arrangements [being] distorted versions of mainstream pop music,” co-wrote four tracks and produced the whole record; the sometimes unnecessarily noisy musical style may have been partially encouraged by him. Given how this turned out, Jónsi probably should have stuck more to the lighter sounds of his previous solo music and Sigur Rós.
begins decently enough with the first three tracks: opener “Exhale” is too long with not quite enough going on, but functions as an airy album opener with emphasis on Jónsi’s falsetto alongside scattered percussion and occasional synth notes. “Shiver” is more of a traditional electronic pop song with interesting rhythms and a compelling build-up. Album highlight “Cannibal” featuring Elizabeth Fraser sounds out of place in a good way with soaring synths, heavenly vocal melodies, and some clean electric guitars. After this is sadly where the record jumps off a cliff and never fully recovers.
The middle run of songs are bafflingly incoherent, with a surplus of abrasive electronic sounds and over-produced auto-tune effects on Jónsi’s otherwise emotive singing voice. “Wildeye” is just a mess, a misguided attempt at a kind of club banger with caustic percussion, and no cohesion between each part. The nearly seven-minute long album epic “Sumarið sem aldrei kom” follows, centering on heavily affected and auto-tuned vocals rising and falling in volume throughout, meandering on and on without building to anything, and eventually just ends. “Kórall” is the track with the most potential, but still has too many over-the-top qualities and nonsensical musical transitions to succeed. “Salt Licorice” featuring Robyn is perhaps the worst offender of them all, with headache-inducing pounding percussion and Jónsi and Robyn alternating this annoying, staccato singing style over wonky instrumentation.
Thankfully, most of the album’s second half is more inoffensively banal than outright failure. “Hold” actually exercises some restraint with a bright melody and percussion that doesn’t go overboard. “Swill” is an almost too-bombastic pop song with a hook that almost resembles a siren, impressively walking the line between the sides of good and bad taste. “Grenade” is more traditional and makes use of a classic Sigur Rós build-up that transitions to an emotive climax, then ends with ambience. “Beautiful Boy” is a sleep-inducing but benign album closer centering on over-produced vocals.
Given Jónsi’s past solo releases and Sigur Rós’s discography, Shiver
should have been much better than it turned out. While not a complete trainwreck, it disappointingly features a minimum of the signature greatness listeners have come to expect. It’s unclear what the reasoning is behind this new sound, whether he was attempting to sound more relevant, subvert expectations, or some other reason. Exploring a new musical direction could have made for an exciting result, but Shiver
is too aimless, scattershot, and inconsistent to be considered a success.