Sigur Rós

Picture of Sigur Rós

Agćtis Byrjun

Sigur Rós - Agćtis Byrjun ©2001 Fat Cat Records/MCA
1. Into
2. Svefn-G-Englar
3. Starlfur
4. Flugufrelsarinn
5. Ny Batteri
6. Hajartao Hamast
7. Vioar Vel TI Loftarasa
8. Olsen Olsen
9. Agaetis Byrjun
10. Avalon

Progressive rock continues to make inroads into more straightforward pop terrain, bringing some complexity and atmosphere back into radio friendly music. The Icelanders Sigur Rós are a prime example of the continued trend (with Radiohead being the most obvious example) towards convoluted song structures and spacious ambiance within the framework of sonorous and accessible rock. The atmosphere of their second album, Agćtis byrjun is one of magnificent opulence, ornate and mysteriously beautiful. The predictable chorus of mainstream critics would have you believe that the band’s sound emerged from a vacuum, destroying rock expectations with something wholly original, all the usual blathering about “post rock” and “avant pop”. They are partly correct. The sound is certainly the band’s own, but there is much here reminiscent of kraut rock, particularly the more ambient variety; fans of early Tangerine Dream or Amon Duul II will not be too surprised by what they hear here, though they will certainly be shocked by the effectiveness and immediacy of the songs, as well as the fact that they were recorded today and not thirty years ago.

Strings, trumpets, and sustained washed out chords sing out into emptiness, while a moog and bass pulsate in the lower registers, creating a dark pensive undercurrent. Jazzy percussion keeps the vaporous guitar lines from drifting too far away from the rhythm, keeping time even as the rest of the band soars into the outlying depths of noise and space. The tempos tend to be slow so that the music can breathe, a swirling abyss opening between yawning bass notes and cymbal hits. Singer Jon Thor Birgisson has a positively transcendent voice, the lyrics (sung in Icelandic) performed with an effeminate falsetto somewhere between Jon Anderson and Thom Yorke, but without the playfulness of the former or the nasal whininess of the latter. Structurally, the music meanders through a lot of terrain, drifting through string-driven pop, psych, and chord strumming rock. In an era when most radio friendly rock bands can barely make it through their three minutes, it’s nice to hear a band that can march through eight and still sustain a feeling of melancholic brevity.

Sigur Rós is already being embraced by a cult following, their music appearing in films and wafting through art school corridors. Of bands with large cult followings, their fame is truly deserved. A mature band that seems to be picking up where German psychedelia left off, their music soars through emptiness with an esoteric emotional quality, a heartbreaking beauty with no discernable cause. Listening to their music is like listening to an internalized universe, an immense vacuum between dark thoughts. In short, an audio reverie.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 07/2002

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