Some bands meticulously include lyrics and commentary with all of their albums. Sigur Rós hasn’t given so much as song titles on its punctuationally-titled latest ablum. The 12-page CD booklet is almost completely blank. Factor in vocalist Jonsi Birgisson’s emotive “Hopelandic” non-dialect and whale-song delivery, and we should be grateful that the boys from Iceland have at least given their band a name so record store clerks know where to rack ( ). It would be a shame if we couldn’t find this beautiful stuff.
For all the album’s parameters that can’t be defined, plenty of adjectives describe their follow-up to Agaetis Byrjun, and they’ve all been used before: haunting, glacial, hushed, muted, emotional, distant, ethereal, alien, stark and pretty. This is the sound of a night of self-healing spent in isolation, as well as the sound of quiet intimacy among trusted friends or the beckoning glow of one small candle in an expansive, encompassing darkness. Songs range from six and a half to 13 minutes in length—long enough for the listener to get lost in each before drifting into the next. One might think this isn’t a good album to play when in a hurry, but perhaps it may be the perfect, calming antidote when you’re stuck in a traffic jam.
Tracks like this album’s fifth carry some of the understated intensity found on Talk Talk’s landmark Laughing Stock album. Guitars and strings slowly ebb and flow as a spare drum kit keeps a sleepy rhythm in a far-off room. Track three rides a gentle piano arpeggio, lightly accented by glockenspiel as a chorus of ebow guitars swells. Other tracks share a similarity to fellow countrywoman Bjork’s seductive and moody set pieces found on Vespertine; Radiohead’s genre-shifting Kid A would sit nicely on a shelf alongside these others as well. That said, Sigur Rós is more adventurous than the former and more uplifting than the latter. It’s a fine, strange mixture.
As otherworldly as Sigur Rós seems, passages of gorgeous melody catch the ear, calling you to return time and again. Though daunting, don’t fight the urge to join in a song with a tympani-like floor tom beat whose chorus seems to be something akin to “ee-si-yow, ee-si-yow, no-fa-low.” Find the secret words you carry in your heart, and sing along.