As a fairly avid music fan, and presumably culturally aware person, I try to listen to as much music as I can possibly get my hands on. Like other "good" music listeners, I've participated in the nineteen year old tradition of listening to the Icelandic musical creations of Sigur Ros- however, the entire time, I felt as though I was missing something; surely a group as popular and affluent as this had an overarching concept- but for some reason, I just wasn't seeing it. Whenever a new record came out, I would listen to it, spending hours trying to understand it; this, was a fairly rare position for someone with auditory visual synesthesia to be in. Music is like math to me- not in approach or practice, but in it's level of honest comprehension. Whereas I'd normally say I "understand" music, when it comes to Sigur Ros, it appears as though my level of awareness goes out the window.
A band that's been around for as long as they have has two options: stick with what sells, or, experiment and try something totally new. Upon hearing that the ethereal Icelandic group's newest album, Kveikur , was expected to be darker, heavier and more intense, I was met with fairly low standards and minor confusion. After all, it's difficult to imagine a hellishly intensified track by the likes of the artists who brought us "Saeglpur."
Armed with a whole lot of skepticism, and various factors to hold in consideration, I sat down, pressed play and listened to the first single off the album, "Brennisteinn."
What I was greeted with was, in fact, darker, heavier and more intense. The sound that I was welcomed with was incredibly unexpected; lead singer Jonsi Birgisson's normally wispy voice took on more of a punch, with a sound somewhat reminiscent of Radiohead's "King of Limbs," also released on XL Records, two years prior in 2011.
Being more accustomed to songs such as "Saeglpur" by the band, which is named after lead singer, Jonsi's younger sister, tracks off of Kurile such as "Isjaki," which translates to "iceberg," hit differently. The song's name and instrumentation conjure up a type of dark, wintery sound that is new to the group. Mellow, but biting female vocals are met with the classic Sigur Ros twist, through the use of a bowed guitar, "big band" production techniques, ala XL , and intricately introduced human-like wolves' howls. Collectively, these elements provide snowy visuals and sensations, seamlessly transporting listeners to a dreamy, snow-covered Icelandic world.
Unlike the band's earlier studio albums, Kveikur leaves little space for wanting "more." While I respected and appreciate Sigur Ros' endeavors and contributions to the music world, these sentiments were mitigated by an unexplainable level of dissatisfaction; I kept getting samples, when all I wanted was the damn meal. The music was beautiful, but there just wasn't enough depth to it; after time, it became redundant.
Since the group has started working with XL Recordings, their sound has matured; along with new production techniques and the use of more electronic elements, Sigur Ros' aesthetic has transformed without having lost its unique identity. Kveikur offers a more progressive approach to their signature sound craft, which is evident from last year's release, Valtari.
While this album, too, lacks the structural aspects someone like me craves, the songs make up for their lack of a linear pattern with an increase in emotional rawness. The group's ability to evoke a mood in their listeners is what I believe contributes to their phenomenal success, and with the release of Kveikur, I find myself understanding, and even enjoying Sigur Ros more.