This was always Sigur Rós’s fate, I guess. Soundtrack work. Who out there didn’t see this coming? If there was one band that matched the cinematic style and drama of say, Vangelis, than who better than these Icelandic visionaries with vocals of made-up languages and grandiose swells of crashing fury?
And so it is. With Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do, Sigur Rós have compiled new music for the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation, and one is left to ponder if the music would be better listened to with the expected accompanying visuals. Nevertheless, Sigur Rós do produce some compelling compositions here, even with the expectations set high after two stellar full lengths.
The EP opens with the delicate “Ba Ba”. With just the quietest synth drone and then ever so gentle Björk-like music box tinkering, Sigur Rós begin the proceedings on a very nimble note. Eventually the chimes build on each other before a more purposeful synth bed forces its way in and handles the duties of the song’s main driving melodic force, even if that melodic force is akin to a particularly dramatic moment on a later episode of Miami Vice. Things get more interesting when the crackles, buzzes, and clicks break through at the song’s middle section to add some texture, before the more forceful synth beds reappear. It ends up being compelling by about the fourth or fifth listen, which shouldn’t come across as a negative. Sigur Rós are definitely staking new ground for themselves here. For a band that has relied so heavily on drama and BIG music, this is definitely a risk for them. For they are relying on music so delicate that it is almost the antithesis of anything they have done previously.
“Ti Ki” opens even more delicately than “Ba Ba” as the music box carries the melodic duties on its own for a good two minutes before the electronics come in and begin to chop, splice and pull.
This music is cyclical music, with each phrase being looped and repeated while changes take place subtly, even discreetly. But the phrases pile up and segments move in and out of sync in time so that the song contains a sort of movement that it wouldn’t otherwise possess. The occasional melodic synth bed stakes its claim as foreman, holding the whole job together while the delicate chime-like elements attempt to build something out of the tiniest fragments.
In this context, “Di Do” opens almost violently with static and fuzz, as eventually distorted, Neanderthal-like voices attempt to verbally express the album’s title: “T—Ti-K—... Di—- Di.Do,,,—BaBA”. Eventually getting the hang of it, the voices fall into a sort of rhythmically trancelike state where the Neanderthal vocals, synth beds, chimes, static, music box, and newly present feedback all come together for a grand finale of perfect harmony. That is until about two minutes later when it all collapses in a wail of noise and acid-drenched destruction.
If you were to put this little EP on whilst doing, say the dishes, you are almost guaranteed to, if not openly dislike it, than at least be decidedly underwhelmed. If however, you were to give it a few listens with your focused attention, then there is a lot to be admired here. The problem lies in the fact that owning this EP is almost entirely worthless as the odds of it being pulled out of a stack and played on a regular basis is almost nil. This music should be experienced as part of a live piece, a performance that can be appreciated and then left behind. Considering that this is also the intention of the music as a soundtrack to a dance piece, then (although I haven’t seen the dance piece) I have to give Sigur Rós a passing grade here. It’s a multifaceted work, which is almost entirely at odds with their previous material, but Sigur Rós have managed to make it grand nevertheless.
// Notes from the Road
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