Sigur Rós Album Review - The Reykjavik Grapevine

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Sigur Rós Album Review


Published August 19, 2005

You started to feel bad for the four members of Sigur Rós, watching the international press hound them for the next album, hearing the grumblings over how their third album, untitled, was slowly losing steam. The Grapevine had visited Sundlaug (swimming pool) in August of 2004, and been impressed by what we’d heard, but when the album didn’t come out that fall, we began to fear the worst.
Here we are, then, sitting in the office with the stolen copy of Takk between us, and we can report that the album seems to be an unrestrained artistic success. The main topic of discussion here, in fact, hasn’t been what took so long, but how did they do this much.

In a sign of truly excessive enthusiasm, we are presenting a track by track on the new album.

Track 1: Takk (Thanks) 2:02
Beginning almost like an orchestra production of the Wayne’s World flashback sound, at 52 seconds we hear Jónsi’s bowed guitar and begin to expect the wail of the last album. But the track stays light and ends at 2:02.

Track 2: Glósóli 6:20
Georg comes on with a strong, whole note bassline and we hear, to our astonishment, Jónsi singing lyrics in Icelandic. The production makes the exact words unclear, but Hopelandic it is not, and the tone is light and clear. The pace is medium tempo, with the signature bowed guitar balancing against a kick drum in 4/4 time. At 4:43, full distorted guitars crash in, and we find ourselves genuinely rocking to Sigur Rós. Quite hard, in fact. A high, staccato lead guitar part drives the rock section briefly, before a dynamic switch to a music box feel, as the song ends like a lullaby.

Track 3. Hoppípolla (Jumping In Puddles) 4:32
Opening with pianos, the joined by a drum kit and a string section, to our pleasant surprise Jónsi is again singing in Icelandic, though with heavy doubling and effects so that he sounds almost like a choir, not unlike The Polyphonic Spree. During a chorus, the music pulls back to reveal just Jónsi, with limited effects, before he works an outstanding rising vocal melody. As the song breaks into the third minute, Jónsi balances with a chorus of his own voices, each hitting a similar rhythmic high melody line, which is eventually echoed by a trumpet.

Track 4. Með Blóðnasir (With a Nosebleed) 2:21
Feeling like a continuation of the previous track, this track again works the interlaid harmonies but contains no clear vocals and works in keyboards and glockenspiel. (Possibly the locally-produced steinharpa—stone harp, a glockenspiel that uses stone keys, as created by Páll Guðmundsson.) We develop a sneaking suspicion that this may be a reversal of the previous track, as the band did in Ágætis Byrjun.

Track 5. Lest (Train) 8:44
Building straight off of Með Blóðnasir, the glockenspiel is isolated, playing a repeated melody that moves up in fifths all while bouncing in 16th notes. A slow vocal line comes over and is followed by a bass, percussion and strings all playing more drawn out chords. The light glockenspiel part drives the song and is eventually joined by what again sounds like a night-time music box. Near the five-minute mark, multiple tonal instruments balance against each other, with on odd bowed instrument over the back, and light, layered vocal parts layered in, slowly joined by layered trumpets. At 6:30, incredibly curiously, we are full-fledged into a night-time polka. At this point, all on staff agree that the album is genius, if for no other reason than for the polka.

Track 6. Sæglópur (Sea Nitwit/Goon) 7:43
Opens with a reverb piano part strangely reminiscent of 90s metal ballads. The glockenspiels come in slowly and Jónsi sings a delicate vocal line in Icelandic, with only þú (you) being extremely intelligible on early listens. At two minutes, a wall of Sigur Rós sound comes in. This is the first track on the album with a minor feel. It builds in a more dramatic, sweeping fashion, similar to tracks in previous albums, though slightly more repetitive. At 7:42, the track may drag a little.

Track 7. Mílanó 10:29
As Mílanó opens, we hear something like an orchestra warming up, all in the same few chords, and a piano introduces a six-note melody. Violins reach to a minor note, and the bass moves up to play high echoes of the piano part. Jónsi sings a surprisingly straightforward falsetto. At five minutes, the song reaches into a more rock structure and works on similar dynamics as the earlier songs follow.

Track 8. Gong 5:37
Violins play what sounds like a folk melody, eventually a guitar pulls out a triad from the melody, and a shuffling drumbeat comes in. Again a minor tone, with Jónsi presenting his voice somewhat straightforward. Close to a melodic rock song, until it breaks into the big drama after the four-minute mark.

Track 9. Andvari (Waft / Zephir) 6:44
A surprise, this track opens with a simple guitar part finger-picked on an electric and basic drums. Extremely basic, a string arrangement takes over at three minutes, keeping the track delicate and understated. An excellent compliment to the earlier dynamics of the album. A beautiful and confident track.

Track 10. Svo Hljótt (So Quiet) 7:28
As indicated by the title, this opens even more stripped down than earlier, but breaks into a bigger song around the five-minute mark, with busy drums over soaring vocals, then the break down to a soft chord, as we hear in the early tracks on the album.

Track 11. Heysátan (Haycock or hay stack) 4:10
A refrain of key notes of one chord, we hear horns, plucked guitar and keyboards all combining for airy but understated effect. Jónsi is most clear in the vocals here, sounding, dare we say it, like an Icelandic Billy Corgan. A closing track, that sounds honest, though, again, with enough effects on the vocals that we can’t quite make out the words other than “I’ve hayed too much,” in Icelandic.

Altogether, Takk feels not only like the best album by Sigur Rós since Ágætis Byrjun, but like a fresh, energetic album demonstrating a new range of possibilities for a band that seemed to be locked into a rigid pattern. In fact, Takk seems like the kind of album that may break open new angles for rock in general—more than likely, this will be the most influential and celebrated album of 2005.

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