Sigur Ros: () (MCA)

The new offering from solemn Icelandic ensemble Sigur is, indeed, a beauty, and you better believe it speaks for itself.

Real beauty speaks for itself, it is said. The new offering from solemn Icelandic ensemble Sigur is, indeed, a beauty, and you better believe it speaks for itself. The group certainly isn’t gonna help you out: the album has no title, the tracks have no titles or designations whatsoever, and the accompanying CD booklet is blank, unless you count some silvery silhouettes of tree branches and what looks like frozen grasses. “Less is more” most of the time; we all know that. But Sigur Ros have taken it to the extreme: nothing is everything. Or something. The band clearly believes that normal lyrics are counter to the mystery they want to perpetuate. Listeners around the world can just swim in the sound without being distracted by mundane things such as words. Singer Jonsi has made up a language known as “Hopelandic.” Soft, drawn-out vowel sounds hang in the air like floating puffs of mist. Jonsi’s voice most resembles the higher register of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in his gentler moments. Ros is, indeed, a beauty, and you

Anyway, this album is gorgeous. It has seven tracks totaling over 70 minutes. It’s deeply melancholy, filled with glacially cool piano and organ, soft percussion, bowed guitar (it was awe-inspiring to see this performed flawlessly during the group’s recent Pageant concert) and that yearning voice, reaching for some heavenly destination—and getting there. Track one begins with an incredibly patient, solemn piano progression before the vocals and other instruments (such as violin) enter. For all intents and purposes, this is ambient music, and to see it reach an indie rock audience is remarkable. Track two is even slower and sadder. Jonsi conveys so much emotionally with just his voice: it’s a deep, captivating and (at times) overwhelming sound. The organ at the beginning of track three will make you think you’re in church at the beginning of a service. On some level here, I think you are.

Track four, one of the best, is distinguished by a punchier drum sound and some recognizable guitar. Jonsi continuously sings a phrase that sounds like “Ee-sy-oh, ee-sy-oh, naff-a-lo.” It would have no great power if he were singing “She left me and it hurts,” I assure you. The apparent tinkle of a music box in the background adds a bit of a childlike feel to the tune. The fifth track is slow and yearning to the point of near emotional catatonia. You know how the American slowcore group Low are always being described as moody, withdrawn, etc.? They’re positively a rockin’ trio compared to tracks like this. Tracks six and seven have drumbeats again, but you won’t likely be tapping your feet, although seven does reach a Radiohead-like crescendo (and there’s even a hint of U2 here!). It’s 13 minutes long, however. In fact, unless you’re lost in the hypnotic sound by now, you might be reaching for a more upbeat disc to play.

Reviewers have been commenting more and more on the unique inspiration Iceland’s leading musicians like Bjork, Mum, and Sigur Ros must get from their homeland in order to produce such ethereal, glowing, often otherworldly soundscapes. Whatever the source, this music is haunting beyond words (which is good because there are none!). If you’ve a taste for this sort of landscape-composition style, Sigur Ros are absolutely worth your time. Just don’t plan on playing your air guitar while it’s on—you’ll be too busy contemplating the air itself.

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