I feel a bit silly reviewing this record, released in its
home country two full years ago. Itís just not hip for a music
critic to sound off on a hot musical phenomenon so long after
its nascence. I admit it. Iím a Johnny-come-lately to the
Sigur Rós world. Iíll attempt to atone.
Some ridiculous hyperboles surround Icelandís Sigur Rós,
that countryís most remarkable export since, well, their last
one. In typical British style, a writer for the venerable
New Music Express compared their sound to "God weeping
tears of gold in heaven." Lars Ulrich, Metallica drummer,
Napster basher, and fellow noisy Scandinavian, reportedly
wrote a letter to Sigur Rós, thanking them for inspiring
him after a show at San Franciscoís Fillmore Theater.
The band can count as fans most of Americaís and Britainís
musical cognoscenti, including luminaries like David Bowie,
Laurie Anderson, and David Byrne.
If youíve come in late, youíre probably wondering what all
the fuss is about. And if youíve ever paid any attention to
the music hype machine before, youíre probably skeptical about
the whole thing.
I, too, was skeptical. How could such a young band from such
a small country cause such a stir? And without so much as
a bleached buzz cut or a homophobic rant? And then, I listened.
Ágætis Byrjun made a believer out of me,
and Iím convinced it will do the same for you, fellow latecomer.
While it may not sound like God weeping tears of any sort
of precious metal in an extraterrestrial paradise, there is
certainly something profoundly moving about Ágætis
Byrjun. It is simultaneously transcendent and grounded,
both angelic and deeply human. This music has as much in common
with Spiritualized and EVOL-era Sonic Youth
as with Nick Cave and Tortoise. Even Mozart
might have dug the dark religiosity of Sigur Rós.
Many critics have chosen to lump the band into the stoner
space rock tradition established by bands like Spacemen
3, but Sigur Rós are not taking drugs to make music
to take drugs to. They are making music to engage, to transport,
and to bring heaven down to earth.
The music of Sigur Rós is beautiful and unusual. Roughly
strummed acoustic guitars interrupt the ecstasies of a full
orchestra. Blips, thumps, and Brechtian punch-ins punctuate
layers of chime-like guitar feedback. Singer Jón
þor Birgissonís (say "yeown thor birgissun") ghostly
voice floats over bowed electric guitar melodies. Pop music
conventions are employed in new and interesting ways. Where
an average band might bring in a snare drum or stomp the distortion
pedal around the one-minute mark of a four-minute song, Sigur
Rós does it around the four-minute mark of a nine-minute
song. In fact, pressed to choose just one word to describe
the music of Sigur Rós, I would pick "patient". There
is absolutely nothing about this band or their music that
For a fabulous introduction to the sound of Sigur Rós,
check out "Svefn-g-englar", the transcendent and engaging
single (the title can be roughly translated as "Sleepwalkers",
though the word "englar" refers to angels). Soaring falsetto
vocals and whirling orchestrations make this piece an excellent
initiation into the Sigur Rós cult.
"Flugufrelsarinn" ("The Fly Freer") is perhaps the most conventionally
structured song on the record. You may even catch yourself
singing along to this one, sure you understand just what heís
going on about. Jónsiís voice is so vulnerable, so
expressive, so emotive that the semiotics fools you into thinking
you know what heís saying, even though he may be singing in
either Icelandic or in his own invented language, Hopelandic
For a stunning, cinematic instrumental, check out "Viđrar
Vel Til Loftárása" ("Good Weather for Air Strikes").
This gem consists mostly of a simple, eight-bar progression
that allows for orchestral improvisation and may remind the
listener of a Radiohead composition. When the vocals
begin after five minutes of this (yep, not actually an instrumental
at all, but they had you fooled), Jónsi seems to be
in the middle of a phrase, as if the vocal track had been
there all along, but someone just bumped the slider to turn
them up in the mix.
If you havenít heard Sigur Rós yet, let me just tell
you that you donít get it. Youíll read a bunch of reviews,
with comparisons like the ones Iíve made here, and even more
(Pink Floyd, Cocteau Twins, Air, Mogwai,
Slowdive, and on and on), but you wonít get
it until you hear it. And when you hear it, youíll
know. Youíll know that your other recent musical purchases
are going to collect dust for a bit while you attempt to absorb
this one. Youíll know that Icelanders must be the coolest
people in the world. Youíll know that there really is still
such a thing as truly great music. Youíll just know.
Youíll hear it, and youíll know.
ó Eryc Eyl
- unlisted intro
- Ný Batterí
- Hjartađ Hamast (bamm bamm bamm)
- Viđrar Vel Til Loftárása
- Olsen Olsen
- Ágætis Byrjun
in the webboard
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