Sigur Rós

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Sigur Rós
Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

EMI/XL Recordings
5 out of 5 stars

If there was one band in the world that I could be a member of right now, it would be Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Rós. I have dreamed this for years and their latest release, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (translation: With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly), only makes my fantasy longing stronger.

Fresh off their recent documentary movie project Heima, Sigur Rós entered the studio last November with a new sense of optimism that permeates their new album. Heima found the band touring the Icelandic countryside playing intimate concerts in small villages, in houses for friends and family and hosting big open-air concerts in the vast countryside. The documentary was accompanied by the double-album soundtrack, Hvarf-Heim. The music for this project delved heavily into their back catalog and most of the arrangements were kept simple with acoustic instruments. It was their purest, most beautiful music to date. Sigur Rós chose to go the opposite direction on their latest release and the result is arguably their most intelligent, worldly and complete musical statement to date.

Med Sud finds Sigur Rós refocusing and further exploring their sound — channeling the best parts of the old into something refreshingly new and beautiful. They have enlisted producer Flood (U2, Depeche Mode), expanded their studio creativity by embracing extensive overdubbing and even added musical coloring from the London Oratory School Schola Boys’ Choir as well as a 67-piece orchestra. Gone are the repetitive down-tempo arrangements and heart-breaking despair. This album is full of twists, musical exploration, life and beauty. Much like Sigur Rós’ journey since their inception, this album is a journey onto itself. It should be considered a complete piece of artistic work, start to finish.

Med Sud begins with two tracks which point to a new musical direction, as both are driven with heavy drums and percussion. Both are up-tempo and happy (at least by Sigur Rós’ standards) as well. The album’s opening track, “Gobbledigook,” which is also the album’s first single, might scare some diehard Sigur Rós fans. So might the next track “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur.” However, in the context of the album, these tracks work as they open up a new door in Sigur Rós’ music as the album gets back to familiar territory with the gorgeous, acoustic guitar-led third track, “Góðan daginn.”

My impression is that Sigur Rós is not trying to ‘sell-out’ with their stylistic shift, rather better convey their musical direction in a more worldly way. These opening songs do not sound like pop songs. They sound like music that has been made with a purpose, as the instrumentation still lends itself to the songwriting.

For those wanting the Sigur Rós of old, the track “Ára bátur” just might possibly be their most prodigious piece of music yet created. The 9-minute track starts with simple piano and singer Jon Birggisson’s falsetto voice. Even though Birggisson is singing in Icelandic, the longing in his voice needs no further instrumentation. At the 4:30 mark the song’s second movement takes over and an angelic piano refrain creeps along into a slow build that climaxes with the boys’ choir and full orchestra — some of the most beautiful music I have heard in years. Other album highlights include the string-accompanied “Fljótavík” and Sigur Rós’ first-ever full English vocal track “All Alright.”

Med Sud is an album that needs to be digested and listened to with patience. It needs to be given time and space to creep into your soul. If you let it in, wonderful things will happen.

— Jonathan Keller

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