Sigur Rós - ( ) 20th Anniversary Edition Music Album Reviews

Sigur Rós - ( ) 20th Anniversary Edition Music Album Reviews
The Icelandic group celebrates the 20th anniversary of its third album with an expanded edition. Sung entirely in the made-up language of Hopelandic, it sounds as sumptuous and suggestive as ever.

It’s not unusual for vocalists to make up gibberish to fit to a melody or a rhythm while workshopping a song. Sigur Rós’ masterstroke was to stop there and, more crucially, to dub their jabberwocky Vonlenska, or “Hopelandic” in English, putting a world-building veneer on what was essentially Icelandic babytalk. This isn’t, like, Dothraki—Hopelandic has no vocabulary, orthography, or grammar; it uses intuitive phonemes for liberating expression, not limiting description. But with shrewdness cloaked in naivete, Sigur Rós concretized the metaphor that they were writing their own musical language. And in the metaphorical sense, as the orchestral post-rock band that defines the rest, they did.

Sigur Rós dabbled in Hopelandic on Ágætis byrjun, their breakout second album. A hit in Iceland in 1999, it spread globally over the next two years via re-release on FatCat, a memorable sync in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, and the shiny new Web 2.0. It was greeted as both the last great record of the 20th century and the first vital one of the 21st, a prophecy borne out by its long diffusion, both directly and as a stylistic influence, through the new millennium’s increasingly edgeless landscape of music, entertainment, and advertising. It seems that there was no occasion that could not be elevated by luxurious folds and piles of bowed electric guitar; simple, sonorous orchestration; and Jónsi’s warm, teary, falsetto-prone tenor.

When they turned to Hopelandic in full on their expectation-laden third record, in 2002, it was but one tone in a deceptive ring of repudiation, as if they were giving their moment the cold shoulder. Instead of going to a fancy studio, they recorded in an empty swimming pool, and while the album came out sounding as upholstered and overwhelming as its predecessor, it was also sparser and sterner, and it lingered in more complicated moods. It had no traditional singles. The songs—all either long or very long—were untitled. Whereas the cover of Ágætis byrjun had been full of presence—a baby alien angel in utero, sure, but still—( ) portrayed an absence, a pair of empty, cut-out parentheses that gave it an ad hoc name.

Like many things about Sigur Rós, the Hopelandic conceit should be desperately corny. But it conveys unaccountable levels of banked power, stupefying beauty, and personal meaning for the listener, not despite but because it is untethered from authorial meaning. It generously furnishes palatial sets where we can play out our own stories, fill in our own poetry, doodle in the blank CD booklet, and post our own lyrics on the band’s website. There’s even a glimmer of something that Sigur Rós are not known for: humor, in that the language’s nonsensical nature made no difference to their new legions of English-speaking fans. But none of these gestures were about diffidence. On the contrary, it was evidence of the band’s intense belief in itself—and in listeners, who, entrusted with a blank, beautiful thought to use as they wished, rose to the effortless challenge in droves.

Last week, for its 20th anniversary, ( ) was reissued in a remastered edition with bonus tracks. It comes amid a spate of renewed activity for the band, which long lay dormant until it returned with a Nordic opera in 2020, just a raven’s feather too early for the Edda­­­-based wave of Sandmen and Northmen and Odin-knows-what-all men to come. Reunited with prodigal keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson—who joined for Ágætis byrjun, helped professionalize the self-taught band, and left in 2012—they’re on a world tour, with a new album slated for next year.

Underlining its stature in Sigur Rós’ catalog, ( ) features heavily in their current setlist, and they say that its pounding, cresting, 12-minute finale, “Untitled #8,” has closed all of their shows since it was written. It was their first record with drummer Orri Páll Dýrason, who stayed in the band until he was accused of sexual assault in 2018. It also features Sveinsson; Georg Holm’s bass, keyboard, and glockenspiel; the string quartet Amiina; and Jónsi at the center, his voice a lonely candle leading through a dim, reverberating cathedral, his guitar the huge and dancing shadows it throws upon the walls.

The record was shaped in two halves, first light, then dark, but even the light is draped with heavy penumbra, to the pleasure of those who find Sigur Rós’ fearlessness of treacle both indispensable and sometimes cloying. More an awakening than a mere beginning, “Untitled #1” is a crepuscular piano hymn bathed in soft organ tones and yowling harmonies from which any trace of sourness has been charcoal-filtered out. The second track is mottled and eerie, and only with the third—which, with about 35 million Spotify streams, is the most popular song on the album by far—do we finally hear an undiluted example of the childlike, Yuletide splendor that made them famous.

Often, ( ) hints at a darker, more difficult Sigur Rós while remaining impeccably easy to listen to—especially the fifth track, which is saturnine and arcane, with Jónsi’s consoling candle now like an oily torch revealing inscriptions on obsidian. This side of the band initiates the second half of the record, where most of the bonus material comes from. In addition to the three tracks of the numinous non-album piece “Untitled #9,” which have long been available online, there are demo versions of the sixth, seventh, and eighth songs. (A forthcoming physical edition will include further bonuses, for better or worse.) These kinds of extras are obligatory for the artist and easily passed over by the listener, which is recommended here, because they’re kind of detrimental.

There is something intensely beside the point, even perverse, about listening to Sigur Rós demos. Their music’s magic lies in how it comes to us so polished and perfect, after all those murky, unruly sounds have been soothed and smoothed by producers and engineers until each one seems impossibly close and larger than life. Yet here’s “Untitled #6” without its crucial scratchy guitar tone, and “#7” with shakier time and an earlier ascent. None of it seems very revealing or flattering, and hearing Jónsi’s voice without its finery is markedly illusion-breaking. Who wants to see Santa’s belly in a plain undershirt? But that deliberate concession to the market is the only way in which ( ) has lost any of its cloudy, mirrored shine. The thing about made-up language is that it always keeps finding new things to say.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Sigur Rós - ( ) 20th Anniversary Edition Music Album Reviews Sigur Rós - ( ) 20th Anniversary Edition Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 12, 2022 Rating: 5


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