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album reviews of ágætis byrjun
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.
a tribute to sigur rós is its ability to retain an organic texture while dealing in the ethereal world of post-rock psychedelia. surging strings, horns, and the occasional harmonica keep the walls of guitar scrawl and feedback firmly rooted, while allowing room for birgisson's lush vocals to soar over top.
led by jon pór birgisson's airy, almost genderless (and often wordless) moan, sigur rós deploys its somber lullabies with symphonic grandeur, stretching out its arching melodies, building tonal and emotional colors around them, and eventually conceding to a perfectly timed fade to black. it doesn't get much more sublime than this.
typical. you wait years for a life-changing foreign-language album, and then two come along at once. but whereas the super furries' 'mwng' revelled in its luminous earthiness, 'agaetis byrjun' sounds like nothing so much as a communication from another planet.
but sigur rós' music doesn't feel as if it is composed to be the soundtrack to furtive stude drug-dalliances. there's a profundity, a palpable vastness to their songs, and a hushed reverence too. this feels like church music, eschewing the sonic cathedrals of shoegazing infamy in favour of music that feels as awesome, as extravagantly bejewelled as, say, the sacre coeur. and as impressive as this is, it also renders 'agaetis byrjun' somewhat impenetrable and aloof. you are meant to admire this record, but there's precious little within its immense grooves that feels human, nothing to actually love.
sigur rós make this bombastic claim on their website: "we are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. and don't think we can't do it, we will." the fact that they've scored hits in iceland with this spectacular orchestrated soul speaks of both their power and the credibility of the natives. the alien angel fetus pressed in silver ink on the cover serves as the perfect logo. sigur rós effortlessly make music that is massive, glacial, and sparse. they are hidden people. children will be conceived, wrists will be slashed, scars will be healed, and tears will be wrenched by this group. they are the first vital band of the 21st century.
resident in the icelandic charts for over a year now, this record has been as eagerly awaited by cognoscenti as anything in years. the reason, largely, is 1999's svefn-g-englar; a track of awesome, austere beauty moving at glacial speed which could be described, without a whiff of hyperbole, as the last great record of the last millennium. sigur rós' second album proper features this astonishing opener and 10 others which, while surprisingly diverse, each reflects their penchant desire for apocalyptic serenity, overdriven guitars and teenage singer jónsi birgisson's unique hopelandish language. the odd rockist mannerism aside, this wonderful band seem to belong as much to the 8th century as the 21st
flugufrelsarinn" is achingly gorgeous, swelling with tape loops, heart-tugging strings and singer jon por birgisson's lush, startlingly feminine vocals. birgisson's emotive glossolalia, a mix of icelandic lyrics and ingenious nonsense, is the raw, red heart of the band.