For much of the last decade, ambient Icelandic rock outfit Sigur Ros have helped usher audiences to higher planes of consciousness via extravagant compositions, nonsensical lyrics (dubbed "Hopelandic"), and, perhaps most powerfully, lead singer Jon Thor Birgisson's (Jonsi) alien falsettos. It's a combination that's lead many to describe their music in the same way one might characterize the coming and going of a violent storm. The quiet anxiety of anticipation, the blustering buildups, the final moments of cataclysmic composition; Sigur Ros songs unfold like surprising events, with arching storylines that occasionally drift past the ten minute mark.
With the band's '08 release Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
, Sigur Ros proved they could slide away from such indulgence when so inclined. In the opening moments of that album, their track "Gobbledigook" trimmed years of ethereal extravagance down into a schizophrenic, three minute concoction that fell oh so close to the same kinds of weird-pop territory bands like Animal Collective and Mum were exploring at the time. That skittish approach would vaguely seep into the rest of Med Sud
.... But on "Gobbledigook", it felt blatant and extreme; something that stood in direct contradiction to anything Sigur Ros had previously tried before.
With the arrival of a debut solo disc dubbed Go
earlier this year, Jonsi suggests that he alone could have been the catalyst for such a shift, for when left to his own devices he proves to be as curious a curator of musical tapestries as they come.
For the album, Jonsi looked to a pair of collaborators that would help usher his music to the same kinds of places "Gobbledigook" previously inhabited. In Nico Muhly he found an American composer capable of adorning Go
in a tizzy of savory aperitifs. Cascading piano lines, majestic blasts of brass, and invigorating pocket orchestras fire across the length of Go
, providing a variety of sonic delectables in which to nibble on. The other major player here is Samuli Kasminen; a Finish percussionist whose rhythmic contributions, though somewhat patch work (much of his work was improvised in the studio), ultimately provide the most galvanizing elements of the album. The result is an adventurous collection that when peaking at its' highest energy, flirts with a child-like sense wonder and/or curiosity; a welcome personality trait, considering Jonsi's passed over it in favor of more dramatic seriousness with his previous work.
Where old habits do appear to die hard lay in Jonsi's continued focus on elements of a more natural order. Falling skies, furious floods, body jolting earthquakes; natural phenomenon provide a variety of thematic settings for many of Go's
songs, with their subjects often seeking refuge within representations of the animal world. "Boy Lilikoi", "Around Us", and "Grow Till Tall", for example, find the artist obsessed with forward movement in the wild ("You run, you're free, you climb endless trees/You reignite/You growl, you howl, you show your teeth/You bite, it's alright" - "Boy Lilikoi"). Through chipper puffs of rhythmic vocal glitches, oscillating flute passages, and a driving percussive pulse he demands his listeners to "Tie strings to clouds/Make your own lake/Let it flow" on "Go Do". These are the kind narratives that string through much of Go
, in English, for the most part.
Of course, such lofty living also has its' consequences. "Tornado" finds Jonsi weighing more existential matters ("I wonder if I'm allowed to ever be free?"), and "Sinking Friendships", appropriately, finds the musician grasping to a failing relationship.
To this end, Go
feels a bit like Jonsi's call to action, exploring more sonic and thematic territory than any previous Sigur Ros album before it. In abandoning "Hopelandic" for English, Go
offers listeners the chance to peer underneath the gargantuan, life-forces Sigur Ros have spent years wearing like an ornate costume. What they'll find is evidence of all kinds of emotion pumping like blood through the bulk of the album. A new day for the possibilities of "Hopelandic", indeed. -David Pitz
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MP3: "Go Do"
Jonsi on Myspace