[18 September 2006]
OBLIGATORY INTRODUCTORY SUMMARY:
Sigur Rós is a band from Iceland. Four albums into its career, it has become a cult favorite worldwide both for the unique falsetto vocalizations of its lead singer Jónsi and the sometimes starkly minimal, often breathtakingly beautiful, and always sweepingly unearthly soundscapes that are its signature creations, along with a distinctive live show. Other Sigur Rós trademarks include cutting-edge avant-garde videos and stunning album packaging. Saeglópur is an EP featuring the track “Saeglópur”, backed with three new songs exclusive to the release, alongside a DVD of the videos for “Saeglópur”, “Glósóli”, and “Hoppípolla”, all from Sigur Rós’s most recent LP, Takk…. Most of Sigur Rós’s songs have no intelligible words in any language.
A lot of recording artists mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Sigur Rós, specifically, means some very important things to a surprisingly high number of people. The band’s website is rife with anecdotes from touched listeners, listeners who live and cry and cope to its music, listeners who see in it the wonder of life, even a listener who claims its sheer beauty pulled him back from the brink of suicide. I have no such Sigur Rós story to share. I have never turned to it for deep solace, I have never cried to it, and no, it has never pulled me back from the brink of despair. All I know is that the first time I heard it, watching the music video for “Untitled 1” from ( ) on the internet, I knew it was incredibly, incredibly gorgeous. The music built slowly and beautifully to a searing pulse, all while the children in the video danced in the ashes of a dystopian future, Jónsi’s falsetto was layered and the car’s windows were getting smashed and I knew I had to listen to more. At the same time, I know both people who have been reduced to tears by it and people who remain entirely unaffected and bored. But Sigur Rós, while it will probably not change your life and may or may not even keep you awake, is unquestionably beautiful.
Sigur Rós has always been known for stunning videos, and the three on this DVD are no exception. The video for “Saeglópur” is intriguing enough, beginning with an incredible, lingering slow-motion shot of the ocean before plunging into it to show the story of a boy battling a veritable nightmare of undersea dangers, including an enormous octupus in silhouette. “Glósóli” is similarly interesting, tracking a crew of young children in various costumes as they play and eventually take literal flight at the edge of a cliff, climbing off into the sky. “Hoppípolla”, however, is probably the most arresting of the bunch. While it’s less surreal and fantastic than the other two, it still has its own distinct visual style (gold tinted, with a hazy black border), and the concept is brilliantly executed. “Hoppípolla” shows a group of old people laughing and playing like children, giggling and pulling pranks and splashing puddles and kissing and ringing doorbells just to run away, dressing like pirates and throwing water balloons and rediscovering the joys of unrestrained behavior, of living like the very young.
“Saeglópur” begins with a slow fade in on a chorus of creaking and cranking. The sounds of a hushed, lo-fi mechanical frenzy, an Industrial Revolution velcro factory gone quiet, quiet, quiet. The shift to more conventional beauty is abrupt, a quick cut to piano chords and the soft plink-clink of bells. Jónsi’s voice rings out then, and slowly tension is introduced, a subdued background crackling, muffled but undeniably present (the glory of running barefoot muddy mornings is always transient, the smooth pale feet always collide eventually with the slap of clingy mud). When the guitars enter they are a stadium flyover, atypically anthemic for the band but still somewhat disembodied, surreal. When they inevitably end it is not as suddenly as they entered but gradual, droning. They coalesce into one hum and then slide into a blue-pink-cream horizon of strings and foam. The ending note is discord only barely resolved, and an alien whistle.
“Refur” is short and meandery, a little quiet space for the piano notes to wander. They stumble out unwittingly but unerringly too, for their footsteps are guided. There is a master plan. They drift now onto a carpet of longer tones, deeper and groanier, but they are unfazed and eventually wander away.
“Ó Fridur” begins in a paper-thin shiver of uncertainty. The wavering strings sweep back and forth like blankets swooping and shivering on a blank white background that slowly starts to glow still-fuzzy gold. It’s growing now, the strings are blooming in little flourishes of still-un-sure-and, hold it now, here comes the piano. Now it’s just a morning song of beauty and the trills of wind are woozy little flourishes at the edges of the picture. When Jónsi starts singing it is not an entrance, he has been hiding here the whole time. He is not mourning or pleading but simply telling, without judgement or meaning. But he can’t hide that little shake in his voice, that betrays his content. He is sitting here, in this springtime, and he is telling us.
“Kafari” is less of a solid object. It is the winter air that coats window glass and seeps into it, thoughtless and devoid of intent. But there is a law governing the pattern of drops, there is thought in each soak and each frost. The droplets are inside now and they are crawling over every surface in the house, painting them beautiful colors, all silver. Blue silver and silver like love and the silver of unicorns, silver sad rain silver skies ice lakes trains. They are everywhere and they are stealing the trees in the forest while the silver leaves fly in the sky. Not in flurries, like airships. Water cracks in a hand.
SUMMARY AND CRITICAL ANALYSIS:
Sigur Rós albums are idiosyncratic, often sprawling things, and the only thing most listeners can agree on regarding their relative strengths is to disagree. From the grandiose rush of Ágaetis Byrjun to the sparer, oftentimes morose vibes of ( ) to the fresher, more middle-of-the-road Takk…, everyone has their own favorite, and their own litany of reasons why. Saeglópur, then, serves fairly well as introduction to the band for newcomers—the condensed nature of the EP keeps the listener hooked while the songs here showcase various aspects of Sigur Rós’s musical style. And while the music alone may not justify the purchase price, the accompanying DVD of videos certainly makes it worth a look.
Sigur Rós makes beautiful music.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/sigur-rs-saeglpur/