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the age review of ( )


everything about this record is evocative and mysterious: the apparent lack of song titles, the almost blank booklet, two empty brackets as a title. this is a place of dreams, of a vast white space. there's no sense of time. no sense of a beginning, then an end. there's no sense, even, of "songs"; they're sung not in icelandic nor english, but an imaginary fusion that singer jonsi birgisson calls "hopelandic". this was a technique taken up on the band's first album, von - he had no prepared lyrics, so he made up words and noises instead. it fits sigur ros's remarkable aesthetic, however. this is music of texture, feel and effect rather than literal meanings and traditional structures. in this way they have something in common with those who abandon what is known about rock in favour of a new kind of beauty, expressed, relative to rock's conservative terms, in an experimental way. sigur ros use guitars, but play resonance, not riffs. they use e-bows on the guitars, too, electronically enhancing the shimmering results. drums are brushed, not pounded. keyboards are old and rich. they have a string section, unusual percussion and arcane old instruments such as glockenspiels, hurdy-gurdys and fiddles. and the piano - in many ways the central instrument on much of ( ) - is kept clean and pure. the album is split in two. the first four songs (and they do, in fact, have names, if you put the cd into a computer) are very quiet and mournful. then there's 30 seconds of silence before the last four songs, which are longer, noisier and more intense. of these, the death song is a series of rising crescendos, anguished wails, simple repetitions and a caterwauling finale of fire and brimstone. alafloss is similar, playing on ideas of quiet and disquiet, with slow-burning choral crescendos, heavy kettle drums and dark, dark bass tones. the first four tracks, however, are better. they're transcendent, blissful and loaded with meaning. vaka, meaning "awake", is soft-focus drums, piano, theremin and voices seemingly recorded in a bubble. fyrsta blends with samskeyti in a ghostly ambient piece, the undertow not unlike brian eno's piano meanderings on thursday afternoon. but then the sound rises into small-screen distortion and subdued white noise, a bleak but desperately beautiful sound.

(chris johnston)



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