Hailing from Iceland, Sigur Ros is one of those bands whose sound defies traditional descriptions. If I must, though, I'd say they fall into a category with shoegazer bands like Slowdive, but also have small touches of the Cocteau Twins and maybe even a little bit of Radiohead in their sound. With only four musicians and a singer, they've managed to create some of the dreamiest, most atmospheric music that I've heard in a long time.
One of the first things that may strike you about the band is the vocals of the lead singer. Although they're high and sound like they could belong to a female, they actually are those of a male, but somehow drift above and weave through the songs in an almost inhuman way. Another beautiful thing about the vocals is that they're all sung in either Icelandic or "Hopelandish" (a nonsensical language that was concocted by the lead singer). Because of this, the vocals really do just become another part of the overall sound and aura. And what an aura it is.
Svefn-G-Englar is the first release by the group to be made available outside their native Iceland. Although they're released two-full length albums and a remix disc, this single contains 4 tracks (one of which is available on their second full-length) and over 35 minutes of music. The title track of the disc is a swaying piece of droning guitars that wash behind keyboard drops that sound like sonar blips while the light vocals (that stick in your head after only one listen) waft through. You'll be humming it all day after hearing it. The second track "Visar Vel Til Loftarasa" starts out slowly, but swells into a crescendo of flurrying strings, piano, and guitar by the end. The two live tracks that comprise the rest of the disc are no less amazing. They're like slow, sad waltzes that wrap you up in their layered sound and make you feel like you're swinging in a hammock in the clouds.
All I know is that if this band continues to get better with each release, their name is going to be on everyone's tongues pretty soon. It's some of the most sweeping, beautiful music I've heard in some time and even though the tempos are slow and the songs tend to be kind of dreary, they're also very uplifting in a way. Listen, because you will be hearing more of them in the future.
Although this album technically came out last year, it's been relatively hard to find until now, mainly due to it only being available on the small Bad Taste label through Iceland. After releasing the Svefn-G-Englar and Ny Batteri single earlier this year, though, Fat Cat records in the UK rightly signed the band and is giving the band the larger push that could just make the band a bigger name than fellow Icelander Bjork.
I'm not kidding.
If you've already checked out the reviews for the above mentioned singles, you'll know just how much this band moves me. The best part is that this full-length album is better than either of those singles, partially because they're able to realize themselves on a more full scale, and partially because it finds them putting all their different sounds together into a cohesive, 70-minute journey of aural bliss that I've not heard in quite awhile. In fact, unless something else comes out this year that shakes me to my foundations as much as this release does, I have a feeling it will be my favorite album of the year. The group take little bits from bands like Labradford, Radiohead, the Cocteau Twins, and about 10 other bands, yet put everything together in a way that it comes out sounding original and beautiful in it's very own way.
After a short intro track that lasts less than 2 minutes or so, the disc goes right into the already mentioned "Svefn-G-Englar" and lead singer Jonski sounds like he's cooing into your ears from 1000 miles away while sonar blips dot a doppler effect through the light instrumentation. "Staralfur" adds a string backing to the group for the main part of the song while little bridges drop out with pulsing electronic beats and even a stripped down acoustic guitar. Really, there's not a song on the album that misses it's mark, from the squalling feedback mixed with a bit of a jazzy number on "Hjartad Hamast" or the smooth bass progression on the sing-along of "Olsen Olsen." The album winds down with the twinkling sounds of the album titled track "Agaetis Byrjun," before closing out with the cool wash of "Avalon," that makes you feel like you feel like you're sitting on the cold coast of the groups home country while looking up at the vast sky.
With four people in the band and the occassional backing by a string section, the very young group have already set their sites high with what is technically only their second full-length release (their debut, Von can be purchased through the Bad Taste website). It doesn't even matter that I can't understand a word they're saying on this release, because it's truly so beatiful that one can 'feel' what they're saying anyway. That may sound cheesy, but that's just how they make you feel, and once you're listening to it you won't even care. There's already been a lot of dramatic words written about the sounds of this groups music, and there will only continue to be more. Just check it out before your friends all beat you to it.