Let me say straight away that this is an absolutely beautifully crafted and perfectly realized album. An album that I cannot stop playing and yet so brilliant it is that the more you listen to it (and believe me I’ve listened a lot!) the more it reveals itself to you and the more you are transported to a real, yet imaginary place.
Sigurðsson is Icelandic, not really a part of Scandanavia, Iceland however shares some similarities with those countries. Vast open wild tundra’s, extreme temperatures in the cold winters, and a sense of isolation, and difference from mainland Europe. There is also a distinct cultural uniqueness about Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. In Britain the recent explosion of interest in these countries have been brought about by television adaptations of Scando literature, Wallender in particular but also in crime series such as The Bridge and The Killing and the fantastic political drama series Borgen. As well as being hugely enjoyable and intellectually stimulating TV, these series re-introduced viewers to the aesthetic beauty of the locations they were shot in. Not just the physical locations but also of more mundane props such as the furniture, the clothes as well as the more liberal views that these countries share in relation to Europe – social care and responsibility for example are highly treasured values.
With Architecture of Loss, Sigurðsson has created the perfect soundtrack for any of these shows, or more to a film that has yet to be made. Growing up in a small Icelandic village, Sigurðsson learnt to play classical guitar, keyboards, bass, percussion as well as electronics and programming which led him to study at London’s SAE Institute. Upon his return, Valgeir founded Greenhouse Studios which quickly earned a reputation as Iceland’s premier recording studio and led him to working with Bjork, first on a track for the Lars Van Trier film Dancer in the Dark and then engineering and programming on a number of her albums including Vespertine.
Having established his reputation, Sigurðsson then set up the Bedroom Community record label releasing music from artists such as Nico Muhly, Ben Frost and Sam Amidon.
Architecture of Loss is Sigurðsson’s third album and arguably his most fully realised, building on 2010’s haunting Draumalandið. Originally composed for a same titled ballet by Stephen Petronio, with Architecture of Loss Sigurðsson has created a soundscape that is coherent, timeless, and thrilling, taking us on a journey through modern day Iceland. Although conceived with the performers physicals movements in mind, the album is not tied to this interpretation. Such is the aural beauty of the suite of songs, the listener is transported to their own world. I, for example, always find myself in the middle of political thriller, lost in icy expanses of Iceland, being chased by unidentified government spooks. The music just paints this picture in my brain and connects the album’s themes of loss and uncertainty with the world around us.
Accompanied by some seriously talented musicians – Nich Muhly on piano, Nadia Sirota on viola and Shahzad Ismaily on assorted instruments, the album is part electronic/digital and part live allowing for a layering of different textures and sonic sounds to emerge and enmesh – from the swelling strings of opener “Guard Down” to the jumpy electronic glitch driven “Big Reveal”.
Following “Guard Down”, second track “The Crumbling” starts with a deep resonating string sound that imbibes and maintains a tension that is only slightly lifted on “World Without Ground” by a light viola refrain that hints at a lighter mood, this is a sparse but utterly beguiling track, ending with a portentous buzz of what I guess is feedback of some sort.
Other highlights are the very filmic “Reversed Erased” with Royksopp like rhythms which build to an almighty crescendo finish of foreboding and warning, again just another stunning track.
This album is sparse yet deeply layered, foreboding yet hopeful, dense yet melodic. It is, quite simply, beautiful, heartwarming and a masterpiece.