October 9, 2008

Sigur Rós: With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly

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Whereas Takk … and Ágætis Byrjun were reminiscnet of august, icy floes and glaciers, and Von and Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do conjured images of sleek sheets of black ice, Sigur Rós’s latest album goes to great lengths to prove that Iceland is also capable of producing flora and fauna. Xylophones and a brass section replace crash cymbals and drum-and-bass interludes common in earlier singles (“Sæglópur” and “N‡ batterí”). Jónsi Birgisson & Co. suddenly sound more like Panda Bear & Co. circa Sung Tongs and less like a calmer Explosions in the Sky, a less twee Múm or other oft-compared acts. Birgisson’s interest in earthy lo-fi is apparent in the first track “Gobbledigook,” which, unsurprisingly, was released as the album’s single — as if to prove that Iceland can produce music without synthesizers, generous distortion and ghostly vocals. For all Birgisson’s efforts, however, the album reverts back to sweeping tracks with his signature crescendos and reverberation (“Fljótavík” and “Suð Í Eyrum”). Gone are the freak-folk quirks the album appeared to promise. Birgission may have taken a cue from 2007’s quietly released Hvarf-Heim, with acoustic versions of “Staralfur” and “Von.” The acoustic transformation of the latter was particularly impressive, and “Gobbledigook” might have benefited from a similar treatment: originally distant and trancelike (think Watermark-era Enya), Von became, merely with the aid of soft percussion and less reverb, warm and soaring — more conventional, to be sure, but also more cohesive as well.