Rós: Icelandic export breaks boundaries
summer 1999, I found myself electronically paying a small Icelandic
label called FatCat to ship a CD to me in the States. My curiosity
had been piqued enough to cave in and buy a CD without even hearing
it. The album was Sigur Rós’s “Agaetis Byrjun,” the sophomore release
from a quartet whose first album, “Von,” was a sometimes minimalist
smattering of reverb-washed vocals, found sounds and a hearty amount
of experimentation. “Von” was an interesting sonic experience at best,
but the follow-up would be the band’s sprawling masterpiece and would
be the springboard for their popularity in both their native Iceland
CD arrived in the mail with a hand-written receipt. I remember starting
my car to go to work as the first strains of the intro to “Sven-g-Englar”
languidly poured from the car’s speakers. By the time the incredible
string-powered epic “Staraflur” had finished, I had been idling in
my job’s parking lot for five minutes. Never before had a CD exceeded
my expectations to this degree. Never had I expected to be so touched
upon the very first listen. Most importantly, never had I heard anything
quite like it. Throughout the day, Sigur Rós’s songs slept in the
back of my head, rustling from time to time with impatience. I had
never wanted to hear a full album so much. When I finally heard all
of “Agaetis Byrjun,” I knew I had found my favorite band. It’s been
five years since that day, and they’re still at the top of my list.
a day and age when a new genre seems to be created every hour (“neo-folk
shoegaze lap-pop,” anyone?), Sigur Rós’s sheer originality looms over
any genre-pegging one could attempt for the band. The epic length
and spacey drones have drawn them comparisons to Pink Floyd. Their
feedback-drenched aching walls of sound have suggested My Bloody Valentine.
For their more aggressive songs, similarities to Mogwai come to mind.
All of these parts are true to some degree, but in this band’s case,
the whole is easily greater than the sum of its parts. For every similarity
to another band Sigur Rós may possess, they incorporate a style all
their own. Lead singer Jonsi Birgisson sings in the made-up language
of “Hopelandic,” a mix of gibberish and proper Icelandic. The band
incorporates an E-Bow that Jonsi rakes across his guitar strings,
generating a wailing that sounds both mournful and powerful. Their
music is rich with detail; a contest on the excellent fan-run website
was held to name as many instruments on “Agaetus Brjun” as one could.
With this variety, ambition and innovation, Sigur Rós has come to
be recognized as something important to modern music. Subsequently,
their popularity has grown, and Sigur Rós now has sold more than a
million albums worldwide.
the keening strains of Jonsi’s vocals to the swell of strings in more
epic numbers such as “Flugufrelsarrin,” Sigur Rós stands out as a
band with a unique sound. How does this rest, then, back-to-back with
the somewhat stagnant state of pop music or the rapidly rippling trends
such as garage rock? Popularity is fickle in the music market, and
a critic’s review can bring a band popularity or quietly tuck their
careers back into bed. Worse, a band can tailor its sound to what
they think the public would like to hear.
put, Sigur Rós has always seemed effortless in creating music that
is decidedly unlike anything else. With each release, the group sidesteps
traditional staples often found in the music industry in order to
pursue their own sound, all the while still
being appreciated by popular culture. An example of this is their
third album, 2002’s “( ).” With no real lyrics and no song titles
listed, the eight-track album is a more raw, darker outing than the
lush “Agaetis Bryjun.” This abstract approach to the album hardly
shook their fan base; the video for the first single, “Vaka,” netted
a Best Video Award of 2003 at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Some may
call Sigur Rós inaccessible, but at the heart of the band is an earnest
passion that has garnered loyal fans from around the world. Isn’t
that what good music should be about?
The future is promising for this band. Having recently played a live improvisational show with Radiohead for a modern dance piece called “Split Sides” by Merce Cunningham (the Sigur Rós portion of the show was recently released as “ba ba ti ki di do”), Sigur Rós is now recording their forth album with a desired release date of this year.