Last autumn, Sigur Rós released an intense yet intimate film documenting a single show at the close of their tour in November '08. At the time of the film's release, lead singer Jón þór Birgisson had just concluded two years of support behind his whimsical, solo debut Go; a stirring, pop-oriented about-face and successful enough to trigger hints of apprehension among Rós' most devoted fans. Would Inni be the last they would hear from Rós? Thankfully, the arrival of Valtari, the band's sixth studio release to date, snuffs out any such need to worry.
The band's first recorded work in four years, however, doesn't announce their arrival in the cataclysmic waves of Inni's earth shaking compositions or the playful, cinematic flights that tracked through much of their last proper studio record, Með suð Í eyrum við spilum endalaust. Instead, Valtari is a seriously vacant experience, numbing the compositional complexities Sigur Rós are capable of in favor of a dream-like fog of instrumentation that envelopes the listener at a glacial pace. Picking favorites doesn't seem to work, as haunting turns of piano, celestial choral arrangements, gleams of glockenspiel, and various electronic embers all waft from one track to another. Even Jonsi's otherworldly falsetto seems the stuff of flesh and blood. Instead of guiding the rest of the band into the cosmos, vocals rest neatly in the song's cracks and crevices, weary to come out and put on too much of a show.
Valtari, then, is a rather curious re-introduction to Sigur Rós...one that's potentially a little off-putting in its singular approach to long-time fans, yet no less picturesque in its beautiful trance than any of the band's previous work. Strap on some headphones, press your eyelids tight, and see what appears out of the strange milky void that is Valtari.