( )

This product warps space and time in its vicinity.

Why does Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós' latest album have the unpronounceable title ( )? Nearly every review of the album concentrates on the "pretentious" quality of releasing an untitled album with eight untitled songs on it. Further, the album has no real liner notes; they are made of tracing paper and are printed with barely perceptible photos of tree branches. The band's pre-album press release stated "listeners will be invited to write or illustrate their own interpretations of Birgisson's 'Hopelandish' vocals and post them on the site. The idea is that the most oft-used words and phrases will then be recognised by a computer program on the site and 'become' the lyrics." That's another thing: Sigur Rós has a lead singer, Jon (Jonsi) þor (Thor) Birgisson, but no lyrics. On the band's previous album, Ágætis Byrjun, he sang mostly in Icelandic, but on ( ) he sings in an invented language called "Hopelandic" (vonlenska). So—are Sigur Rós pretentious? I prefer not to think so. Their music is so powerful and genre-defying that pretension seems not to apply. They really are good enough to do whatever they want.

The title ( ) seems to refer to the album's halved structure: four songs, a thirty-second silence, four more songs. The album's two halves are different both musically and thematically; though melancholy is an integral part of all of the band's music, the first four songs are more hopeful, optimistic-sounding. The second half, though no less beautiful, is sadder, rawer, more anguished. Call ( ) "Sigur Rós," or "the new album," or just "untitled"—I'm thinking of calling it "Halves".

Jonsi's Hopelandic vocals sound much like the Icelandic on Ágætis Byrjun—but if ( ) can be faulted musically, it is because of this vocal style. Throughout much the album, Jonsi sings only variations of five or six Hopelandic syllables: "Yo xi lo, no fi lo." It makes the idea of the fan penning interpretations of the lyrics irrelevant, and seems like a bit of a cop-out. The repetition of a central vocal motif gives the album a bit of a coherence, however, but it's like using just one vocal sample for an entire techno album.

It's not much of a loss that the tracks are untitled—who can remember which track off of Ágætis Byrjun is which, anyway?—but it's still a puzzling artistic choice. Sigur Rós wants each listener to bring individual emotions to the pieces—but when Sigur Rós toured these songs before the albums release, they all had titles: "Vaka," "Fyrsta," "Samskeyti," "Njósnavélin," "Alafoss," "E-bow," and "Popp."

Sigur Rós is Jon (Jonsi) þor (Thor) Birgisson (vocals, guitar), Georg Holm (bass), Kjartan Sveinsson (keyboard, guitar) and Orri Páll Dýrason (drums). ( ) also features Sigur Rós' live string section, "amina." ( ) was recorded at Alafoss, the band's private "converted swimming pool studio outside of Reykjavik," between January and March of 2002.

UPDATE: I got to see Sigur Rós live on November 25, 2002. The experience was utterly incredible. I have daylogged about it here.

excuse me whilst i wax poetic...


1 Synthesized organs open, joined by piano and a ghostlike wavering wind, whistling. The melody is melancholy hope and persistence. Hopelandic lyrics? "You sighed alone, the fire, you saw the lie."

2 Opens with the ominous sound of a tortured and dying didgeridoo. The first snap of percussion on the record bears down on your consciousness, and ripples of warmth radiate from the first delicately plucked guitar notes. "Do you sigh? You saw the lone fire, you ride alone, you ride silent." Images in slow motion, beautiful and terrible: a shot bird spiraling down, trailing feathers. Trees waving in a breeze or bending in a hurricane, in black silhouette against a burning orange sunset. A green insect opening its wings and taking flight, its landing-pad leaf recoiling. A horse galloping across purple icefields into a grey horizon, steaming.

3 A circulating current of piano washes through a warm bath of soft and distant pulses of sound, swelling, receding like a tide--pulled to and fro by the moon, crisp, rising against the sky, deepening from purple to sable-black. Falling leaves, never touching the ground, hovering. Snowflakes swirling and drifting. The circulation of warm blood, the rhythms of life.

4 Sepulchral drumbeats, soft but piercing guitar. Hymnal organs. A constant background of echoing, sizzling guitars. Vocals are close, immediate. A harpsichord music-box tinkle. The sound of innocence and promise. This is the sound you feel during those moments of life-altering joy, during those moments of connection.

... SILENCE ...

5 Organ. Slow; thick and spare in the same instant. Mournful, dirge-like. Drumbeats once every eternity. Jonsi's hopelandic syllables spell out "sorrow." Building, building to the first ecstatically anguished climax of the record.

6 A primal heartbeat. Lonesome pining. A slow, growling bubble of volume struggles up, subsides. Echoing aftershocks--or perhaps foreshadowings--slice through to the heart, and build, slashing open a gorgeous, peircing piano melody. Falling icicles impale the amps, shattering in slow motion.

7 (We cannot go on.) Jonsi's usually pure voice takes on a feeling of frayedness, rattling and bursting almost into a cry of anger, lifted up on a short-lived pillar of molten lightning. Subsiding, simmering, shimmering, rising again. Resonating, reverberating off of cave walls, wrapping around stalagmites and stalactites, wrinkling the crystal-smooth surface of a dark carvernous sea. The machinery of the planets crashing as the burning cosmos aligns in the Arctic sky.

8 It must break. It must break! Pounding, pulsing, strings building, bass driving, building, building, building, it must break, building, building, it must break, building, building, building, it must break, building, building--a wave of aggressive drums, searingly cold guitars, the torrent is released.

1. 6:38 (Vaka)
2. 7:33 (Fyrsta / First)
3. 6:33 (Samskeyti / Attachment)
4. 7:32 (Njósnavélin / The Nothing Song / Spy Machine)


5. 9:27 (Alafoss)
6. 8:48 (E-bow)
7. 12:59 (Dauþalagiþ / The Death Song)
8. 11:45 (Popplagiþ / Popp / The Pop Song)



updated nov 06, 2002

Being an elf was once three-fourths of being my self.

Candles have been placed; there are at least eight in this room. A ceremony was requested, so we asked the organs to come in and shine a pathway up twisting stairs. To let us know, because otherwise we're in the dark. There's something inside, regardless of language or religious denomination, that something inside is scratching its way trying to get out. I've been recently developing a theory (a whim, really) about the inner elf. Each person has within them this elfin creature that sometimes is more in control of the person than others. There are ways to get more closely in contact with this inner being, some ways are through music. ( ) is Sigur Rós' third album. And somehow, despite my not speaking Icelandic, despite my inherent resistance to claim that I have the ability to understand anything on any level, I feel I understand what's being communicated here.

A righteous path may be a dark path indeed. We're all looking for something in this world. Opening people up, looking inside with a critical eye, always for the creature within the creature. I've heard it called the Cat Inside, with technology we call them gremlins. Throughout history in a variety of forms they have appeared to our ancestors, our contemporaries. Some theorists posit that even alien-sightings are an expression of the elf mythology. Mescalito, spirit of the vegetation. Peering out, watching the individuals pass by. But this is externalizing. I was talking about the elf inside. There are experiences I've had, that I know others have had, whereas the level of communication between two peoples is elevated. Something else has taken over, there's this magical crispness in the air, something almost like static electricity. In the case of male-female relations, it is one of those moments where I look into the girl's eyes, and behind those ocular cavities I see pure, unadulterated magic. The real sparkle of all time. That is the elf inside.

The reclusive gnome reveals itself often in archetypal situations, arising from the as-of-yet-still-unproven-and-unperfected-concept of the collective unconscious. Music, somehow, has the power to ignite such situations. I first picked up on this effect while listening to Tortoise's TNT for the first time, have since made it my obsession in life. I simplify my genre-classifying to psychedelic or not-psychedelic. Sigur Rós is highly psychedelic. They open the doors of Chapel Perilous and leave them open.

The songs that make up this album are untitled. Untitled in release form, anyway. Those of us who have been blessed with opportunity to see Sigur Rós live will recognize most, if not all of these songs from the recent tours. A Sigur Rós live experience is a beautiful thing indeed. The music arises from them like tentacles, or waves, or transient foreign false memories, and the swell of e-bow, the mysterious babbling of Jónsi, somehow these things all come together to create very powerful experiences. And while I know the working titles for many of the songs on this album, I am not going to list them here, because the band has declared them untitled and thus they are, regardless of what they were. I will also not discuss how each particular song sounds. I am not trying to spoil this album for you. I am just responding to it.

There are elves in this music. They come from beneath static, and unexpectedly. There is a world inside the music that standard speaker systems will never allow to be fully expressed. Headphones are required to hear the numerous adornments made. I find it to be no coincidence that a song from Ágætis Byrjun was called "Staring Elf."

All truth be told: I am afraid I am losing the elf inside of me. It's as if he is less and less at the controls, helming the ship, pointing me in the right direction. I look inside, and I try to find the voice and it's not there. I close my eyes, and the movies don't play. I still feel sensitive to phenomena, but I never feel like I'm getting even a good reception to the picture. I forgot to mention previously more of my theory of elfishness: I believe (as much as I can believe anything, a statement like "I Believe" from a "person like me" is a misnomer) that the elf inside me is what communicated with the elf inside another, and through this communication a bond -- a love supreme is born. What happens when I lose the elf? Do I lose love? Do I ever get it back? What has made it disappear? Am I living a life not on the proper path? Am I wasting my time in life? Have I not utilized the meddle inside of me to create the things some cosmic coincidence office wants me to create? What the fuck is wrong with me anyway?

This album is separated into two parts. The first four songs are the so-called "quiet" side, then there is a pause of thirty seconds, and we move on to the "loud" side. The loud side isn't necessarily consistently loud. Instead, it is more of warning as to the emotional intensity of the songs to be found here. These are the things that develop in the dark corners of the mind. Think of the first half as perhaps the White Lodge, the thirty seconds in between as the Waiting Room, and the second half the Black Lodge. My thoughts have followed this trajectory, too I think.

It would not be untrue to say that some of these songs in the second half are outright menacing. But that's the nature of consciousness. You take the sour with sweet, even if it means a black eye and a sore nose. The strings here seem to have more of an emphasis. Amina rises up, soul truth leaving from the body, leaving it behind like a steaming piece of shit. There is a definite need for escape here. An urgency to where these things are going. Whereas the first half of the album communicates an inner-world, a world of the icons and totems of human consciousness, elfdom, and love--the mystery of the Black Foliage... The ) half of the album is the world, and everything in between our finding happiness within it.

Inside from the no, no happiness here, tonight. Inside from no, we can peek out and see only negativity. Don't Let's Start on that path again, let's walk other paths. Paths with trees that seem to animate in the fog-stuttered nights. Like those times when we fell in love. When I could see your face magnified a thousand times in each miniscule drop of moisture from the fog. The night I did not need glasses to see you, when your mouth (close to mine) found all the right places to start a mystery. When insanity was something far-off, something I wasn't in fear of. Before I fully understood the restlessness of nomadic revery and destruction.

And it raises out, ripping through the skin! The elf has been compounded and hidden for too long! He rips out in his most evil form, laughing, he scratches my face and spits on my shoes. Everyone else is watching, but they only see me making pained expressions. I'm on the bus, I'm on the street, I'm lost, and I'm just another crazy. No one sees the gremlin attacking me, laughing and wounding my consciousness. I will not forget. He takes off, runs down the street.

Being an elf was once three-fourths of being my self.

( ) will be released October 28, 2002.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.