Icelandic band Sigur Rós is known for their soundscapes, mimimalists arrangements, overlay of instruments, reverb, and ethereal vocals of band leaderJón Þór Birgisson, known as Jonsi. I became aware of the band about a decade ago and Ágætis byrjun is one of my all-time favorite albums, but I was less familiar with their other work. So now I’ve listened to two decades of Sigur Rós’ recordings and I have to say I like this band all the more. Their genre of post-rock, whatever that means, is something that appeals to me. And as someone who has trouble paying attention to lyrics, how lovely is it to have a band that sometimes sings in made up words where the emotion is more important than their meaning.
On this day that Iceland’s football team advances in the Euro 2016 tournament, how better to celebrate than by going through an album-by-album review of Sigur Rós’ catalogue.
Release date: June 1997
Favorite tracks: “Sigur Rós,” “Hún Jörð …,” “Von,” and “Syndir Guðs (Opinberun frelsarans)”
Thoughts: This debut album features the expected dreamy soundscapes overlaid with ethereal vocals, but that is not all it has to offer. From the spooky opening track, more sound collage than music to the propulsive drums and fuzz guitar of “Hún Jörð …” there’s a lot to chew on.
Album: Ágætis byrjun
Release date: 12 June 1999
Favorite tracks: “Svefn-g-englar,” “Starálfur,” “Ný batterí,” “Olsen Olsen,” and “Ágætis byrjun”
Thoughts: A masterpiece. Just a gift of music and beauty to the world. I have a particular fondness for the title track since it was playing in the delivery room when my daughter was born. A Good Beginning, indeed!
Album: ( )
Release date: 28 October 2002
Favorite tracks: “Untitled 1” and “Untitled 7”
Thoughts: This is a minimally titled album with minimally titled songs, but not made with minimal effort. The first four tracks are more cheerful, while the last four are more sorrowful. All of the songs are performed by Jonsi in the made-up language of Vonlenska (called “Hopelandic” in English). It’s a concept album that holds together well even if the concept is more of a feeling than something concrete
Release date: 12 December 2005
Favorite tracks: “Glósóli,” “Hoppípolla,” “Sæglópur, ” and “Svo hljótt”
Thoughts: Sigur Rós songs are known for their orchestral arrangements and slow builds, but that seems even more true on this album. So it’s know surprise that several of these songs were used as promotional music. This sounds like the soundtrack to a movie in your head. Lovely and immersive.
Release date: 5 November 2007
Favorite tracks: “Hljómalind”
Thoughts: This compilation is half recordings of previously unreleased songs and half a live set of acoustic performances from the documentary Heima. The first half is nice but you can tell that they’re outtakes. The second half is lovely although the tracks sound surprisingly “perfect” for a live performance.
Album: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Release date: 20 June 2008
Favorite tracks: “Gobbledigook,” “Festival,” “Ára bátur,” and “All Alright.”
Thoughts: A departure of sorts as this album is more guitar-driven and folk-inflected indie rock than the spare and orchestral sounds of their previous works. There’s also a song in English, a slow, sad song in English.
Release date: 7 November 2011
Thoughts: Another live recording accompanying a concert film, this two-disc set captures songs from all of Sigur Rós career up to this point.
Release date: 23 May 2012
Favorite tracks:”Varúð” and “Fjögur píanó”
Thoughts: Sigur Rós steps back from the pop sensibilities of the previous album, reverting to soundscapes that are even quieter and more restrained than their earlier recordings, if that can be believed. It’s beautiful stuff, but can also be too much of a good thing.
Release date: 12 June 2013
Favorite tracks: “Brennisteinn”
Thoughts: More aggressive than earlier work, the soundscapes that so often are accompanied by visuals of Iceland’s scenic beauty, this is the harsh side of nature – icy winds, crashing waves, and jagged rocks. And there’s quite a bit of change among tracks so it’s clear where one ends and the next begins.
There’s my thoughts on Sigur Rós and I hope to hear more from them in the future.
Music Discoveries continues in two weeks when I will get down and give it up for Parliament/Funkadelic.