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iain moffat (ágætis byrjun)

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.

it's not strictly in icelandic, of course, just as cocteau twins songs (an obvious reference point, but a benchmark they actually - possibly uniquely - measure up to) aren't really in english, but, since frontman jonsi birgisson's astonishing, scarcely penetrable cries make charlotte church sound like the voice of satan by comparison, the whole notion of vocabulary is summarily dispensed with throughout anyway. sigur ros are by no means just about that voice, though. this album shows them up as supremely gifted journeymen, dipping pianos and violins in cauldrons of honey and producing shamelessly tear-stained epics that comfortably pass as classical music for the 21st century, and then some. 'ny batteri' and the already-classic-in-certain-circles 'svefn-g-englar' prove to have been unbelievably inadequate as an introduction, although they did admittedly leave us somewhat primed for the length and ambition present here, but the likes of 'staralfur' and 'viorar vel til loftarasa' manage to scale loftier, more soulful peaks still. little wonder radiohead are such committed sigurettes.

madly, the icelanders have given this album the sort of chart life we brits reserve for special cases like shania twain. wonder what the immigration laws up there are like...

(iain moffat)



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