Everyone needs a vessel through which they absorb new music, unfortunately enough these days it mostly comes from those petty white iPod earbuds that quite frankly, are downright uncomfortable. The only way for me to really experience the new music that I’m constantly getting is through the Panasonic cassette player and amplifier combo that my dad gave me some ten years ago. The thing is dead simple in its construction yet produces a complicated sound that’s better than anything else.
My routine for each new album usually goes as follows: obtain music, digitally most often, vinyl if lucky enough; get somewhere comfortable (usually in bed) with closed eyes; then crank it into the red.
The first time I played a Sigur Rós album this way I cried. I cried with an unabashed joy of music’s ability to revitalize the soul. And I know, I know, this sounds cheesy as all getup but it’s true, this music has a powerful emotional appeal for reasons I can’t quite explain. Perhaps it’s the fact that they speak in a foreign Icelandic tongue, or maybe it’s the building rhythms of beautifully chosen instruments that fit like poetry. Either way, coming from those old speakers makes it sound as though they’re recording it right there in my bedroom, and it’s damned good.
So when their fifth studio album dropped, I felt I had to stick with tradition. The album is called Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust which translates as “With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly”, an apt title for a band that’s known to have songs over the six minute mark. From the start this album plays beautifully, but it’s an obvious divergence from their previous work.
Of the classifications this band has been given over their decade long career, the most suited (yet also most clichéd) have used words like “ethereal”, “whimsical”, or “otherworldly”. And on their previous albums, these essentially fit the bill. But from the very first track of their latest, it appears they’ve reentered the atmosphere. It’s called “Gobbledigook”, and it just begs to be danced to whilst naked in an open field. Their music video eloquently shows us how it should be done.
All the stomping around surely isn’t enough though for this monumental album, so the next song starts to break things up even more. Rising guitars are accompanied by a xylophone and strings that build up the vocal melodies. To continue the analogy, if “gobbledygook” was a tribal dance on land, the album moves to the sea with the ship setting sail during “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur”.
The crew might take some time to reflect on the lives they’ll be leaving behind during “Góðan daginn”, a slow and steady melody with a hopeful undertone.
Then, there’s the impending iceberg. And “Við spilum endalaust” gives us warning of the turmoil that’s to come; it rises up with the hope of a piano ballad which show a possibility of escape.
Then our captain speaks, and it’s sad news. “Festival”s first half is a sorrowful lament to the immense beauty of the world by lead singer Jón “Jónsi” Birgisson, and you don’t have to know Icelandic to pick up on this. He goes on for five minutes before the song bursts free in an utter shipwreck of sounds. The iceberg is breaking all around the ship as the drums beat faster and the violins kick up into a whirlwind of instrumentation. It’s a cohesive piece that stays strong in its fight against the forces of nature, and it grows to a point at which they seem to be working in harmony by the climax.
Then all is silent. A lone whistle comes at the end of the track, marking the possible demise of all. As the sixth track begins however, the survivors emerge from the waters. “Suð í eyrum” brings the pieces to the surface with its soft drums and even softer piano that hug the debris for dear life.
During what could have been a very great ending to this album, “Ára bátur” is the perfect song for the funeral. It features the London Oratory Boys' Choir accompanying Jónsi in an all out wail that could fill the biggest of cathedrals with ease. It’s downright haunting in its simplistic grandeur.
Yet the album goes on for another four songs, which don’t quite fit into either my allegory or the album’s flow. I shouldn’t be quite so quick to discredit them, but it does seem that they would have made for a great EP to accompany the album instead of where they are.