New Sigur Ros.
I've written about Sigur Ros on this blog before, when their third album, "Takk", so pleasantly surprised me with its awesomeness. After their first album, "Agaetis Byrjun", a record I found enjoyable if not always as great as its opening track, "Svefn-G-Englar", they released the much more soporific "( )", an album I couldn't quite get my head around. I was afraid that "Agaetis Byrjun" would eventually prove to be the best they'd had, that it would all be downhill from there. "Takk" was marked evidence to the contrary, possibly their best album yet. I loved it.
Now they have a new album, which is actually a double CD (though it fits onto a single CD-R; hopefully, the actual package will reflect this length and be single-disc priced). The first disc, "Hvarf", is the soundtrack to their upcoming movie, and the second disc, "Heim", is described as acoustic versions of earlier material. This isn't strictly true, but I'll get to that in a minute. Let's discuss "Hvarf" first.
I know a lot of people are just as enraptured as I am, if not more so, by the dynamic, unfolding beauty of the best Sigur Ros songs. Sure, it's a typical trick of the debatably-extant subgenre they're often lumped into, that being "post-rock"; start quiet and pretty, build toward a loud, powerful, often distorted climax, then trail back off again. And sometimes, when bands do it, it sounds like that--a trick. A gimmick. Never when Sigur Ros does it, though. Instead, the songs on "Hvarf" sound to me as if they must be the perfect audio track for the images that will apparently be contained in the Sigur Ros movie--I hear it's a journey through the natural, unspoiled areas of their native Iceland, a country with truly fascinating geographical formations. The beauty of nature unspooling over time is what I hear in these songs. Jonsi Birgisson's high, nonsensical vocals soar over clearly plucked guitar notes, soaring keyboard sustain, ringing cymbal taps, and the sorts of hums that I imagine are what Birgisson produces when he draws violin bows across his guitar strings, as he so frequently does. These songs are long, and don't so much build up as unspool, not generally reaching climaxes so much as revealing more and more layers underlying each central melody.
"Heim", meanwhile, does consist of reinterpreted familiar melodies from earlier Sigur Ros albums. However, rather than sounding like "acoustic versions" (what could that even mean for a band whose electric guitar parts are usually bowed?), they sound like the original melodies transposed into arrangements for small chamber ensembles. It's as if Sigur Ros recruited Louisville, Kentucky's Rachels to interpret some of their earlier compositions. In fairness, I will admit that acoustic guitar does occasionally show up in the background of these tracks. Most of what you hear, though, is piano and symphonic stringed instruments--violins, violas, cellos, etc. They turn songs that had previously at least borne some resemblance to rock music into outright classical music, and it's definitely not a bad thing. Jonsi Birgisson's vocals show up here as well, sounding clearer and more audible than they have at any other point in his career. One might even find oneself plucking actual words and phrases from his lyrics, regardless of the fact that they are supposedly in a made-up language. The phrase "you sigh alone", which seemed to show up as just about every third line on "( )", is in evidence on multiple songs here as well.
One thing both discs have in common is their overall mood. I have heard plenty of people talk about the overwhelming power of Sigur Ros's music, and plenty more dismiss these first people as pretentious idiots. I've previously stood somewhere between the two groups. But I must say, this new double-disc set is enough to at least start pushing me towards the former group. I've been listening to this album on a daily basis for over a week now, and no journey through it has failed to bring powerful emotions to the surface for me. It's that same old feeling, generally, of being on the cusp of something beautiful and powerful, something that will make all of this worth it. It's something I've longed for all my life, to finally feel like the things I want in this life are attainable, that the things I've suffered through and will suffer through in the future will be compensated for. Late at night, with the lights off and this album on, lying in bed waiting for sleep to come, I've felt like that thing, whatever it may be, is within my reach. My heart has been lifted by this music. This is a rare and wonderful feeling, and it's one that deserves to be acknowledged when it's felt.
Sigur Ros - Hjomalind (from "Hvarf")
Sigur Ros - Staralfur (from "Heim")
The entry about Coalesce and Sunny Day Real Estate has obviously not happened yet, and maybe never will. I should never promise in advance to write about particular things--when will I learn?