Sigur Ros

MCA, 2002


REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


When Radiohead credits a band for encouraging its members to become even more sonically adventurous in the recording process, chances are if you’re a music geek, you’re going to be curious about that band (unless you’re one of the holdout Radiohead fans who hope the band will eventually get around to recording The Bends II, then you’re probably going to be pissed at that particular band).

The Icelandic band Sigur Rós found a large audience with its third album Agaetis Byrjun. It was a wholly original work. Intensely atmospheric, but not new-agey. And in an age where many English-speaking listeners rarely venture out to buy music that’s not in their native tongue, the fact that the majority of the album was sung in Icelandic didn’t appear to be much of a language barrier for fans outside their homeland. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Their follow-up, 2002’s ( ), is an album reviewer’s dream: no text in the liner notes and no song titles (though song titles were later revealed via the band’s Web site at http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/band/disco/parenth.php). Pretentious? But no more pretentious than a classical music piece with eight separate movements. The lack of song titles has its benefits: It’s great for fans who routinely forget song titles. In addition, having untitled tracks greatly reduces the chance of someone rudely shouting out a song request during one of their concerts. Eight untitled tracks – for almost any other band, this would be a novelty, but for Sigur Rós, there could not have been a more logical decision.

Like a traditional “album”, ( ) is divided into two parts. The first four tracks are of a more optimistic tone than the second half, but if you’re a first time listener, the slow, almost droning guitar work of lead singer Jón Pór Birgisson are anything but sunny. Orri Páll Dýrason’s light, controlled percussion also slows the pace down, but somehow keeps the songs from turning into plodding, lumbering arrangements.

The pacing of the album picks up in the second half of ( ), where most of the album’s initial payoffs lie. Track 7 (named “the death song” on the band’s Web site), is a 13-minute boiler of a song, easing its way up to a thundering crescendo. As a standalone song on an MP3 shuffle, it’s a great track. But fit into the entire album, the song is the climactic portion of a work 40 minutes in development. If that wasn’t enough for a listener, a final, 10-minute plus track closes out the album. While the string sections provide much weight to Sigur Rós’ music and Birgission’s vocals are compelling, it’s Dýrason’s drumming that packs the biggest wallop at the end of the album.

The entire album is sung in the band’s made-up “Hopelandic” language. No matter, Birgission’s singing, be it his quiet whisper or his soaring holding of every vowel as if it were his last, convey a mood (be it hope, loss or everything in between) that will linger in listener’s ears.

Rating: A-

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© 2007 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.