There is something magical about Iceland, an arcane land of fire and
ice which has birthed such innovative artists as Björk and
Múm. Sigur Rós arise from the same songwriting
tradition, creating symphonic masterpieces that evoke a mythical
Icelandic landscape. At times the band's music brings to mind the
feeling of emptiness, hollow spaces that are washed over eerie
guitars, doleful strings and downbeat piano. The songs here are
post-modern wastelands that give way to dreamlike images, illusory
yet very tangible at the same time.
Listening to a Sigur Rós album can resemble a religious
experience. The Icelandic iconoclasts' music renders listeners
powerless in the face of its emotionality, its power and its
Listening to a Sigur Rós album can be like dropping from the
sky, tumbling beneath the clouds and falling. Terminal velocity.
It's like feeling suspended, ensnared in a vortex, and being forced
to confront your emotional demons head-on.
Singer Jon Thor Birgisson possesses the peerless ability to
communicate feeling, especially vulnerability, in the space of few,
if any, words. Vocalizing in an invented language called
"Hopelandic," Birgisson's otherworldly falsetto buoys potentially
Byzantine songs you may not know what he's singing about, but
he communicates just the same. The rest of the band drapes
Birgisson's vocal incantations in snowy, apocalyptic textures. The
music is potent, powerful enough to just sweep you along.
Much has been said about the seemingly pretentious nature of this
album, the band's third. Critics scoff at its lack of title, save for
an unpronounceable symbol, ( ). Sure, none of the eight
tracks are titled either, but that befits the band's approach. Think
of the songs in the tradition of classical music, written in
movements. The album coheres; it's a full body of work intended to be
heard holistically, not simply as a collection of songs. But it takes
some work. You must be an active listener to appreciate it fully.
Track 3 twinkles with abandon. This instrumental feels haunted,
melting with fluid, repetitive keyboards, a dazzling, perfect
soundtrack to an insular, late night drive. The song paradoxically
possesses an archaic quality as well as a refreshing newness,
crackling with recorded blips, but smacking of spring. The song
Tracks 7 and 8 burst with tension, spontaneously erupting in bits of
fury that later restrain themselves and build up again for another
schismatic episode, a collision. Sigur Rós' music has been
compared closely to nature, and track 7 nears volcanic peaks. The
album closer, track 8, is mournful, cascading until a breaking point
midway through its expansive length.
( ) is not intended for casual listens. Though the temptation
to be pretentious exists, Sigur Rós' proficiency and wonderful
originality steer clear of the dilettantish hijinks or gimmicks that
plague lesser groups. Slip on ( ), and just try to resist
Birgisson's passion. Better, just close your eyes and let yourself