( so this is the sigur rós album with no name. the one with no song titles, no comprehensible lyrics, no linear notes. no nothing. a lot has been made of the fact that the band decided to opt for the more minimal approach on their record - "( )". maybe i've shot myself in the foot by highlighting the matter, but what seems to be the most disheartening factor is that it diverts all attention from what matters and is most important; the music. rather than resting on their laurels and making an gtis byrjun mark II, followed their muse to create a stunning work of art. and like most innovative art, it will take time and diligence ie. repeated listening, with headphones, to fully appreciate them for what they are... sonic masterpieces.
starting with a click, a simple keyboard melody leads us into track one. setting the tone for the sweeter, more fragile first half. after 2:25, jónsi's vocals are brought in, sung in almost a reflective, as he is backed by his own fragmented, synthed vocals. the contemplative nature is followed by the time the middle eight piano key change occurs (4:33) into one of the most gloriously swooning climaxes on the record where everything converges together. jónsi's bare yet heart-warming vocal refrain giving a base of stability, whilst all his other synthed vocals mesh chaotically over it. he's not singing any words... yet the power and passion it contains is far beyond what any words could express. jónsi vocals on track two, have a completely different effect. making me think of the greek myth character's, the sirens. where he cooes beautifully, tempting you closer and closer. the strings soaring in tandem with his soothing voice. just completely irresistible not to fall for. in track three, they create a vivid sound-scape that takes you to the outer reaches of their collective imaginations and leaves you there, without a feeling of utter desolation. with out the words, you can sum up moods, and feelings, and meanings and tones, all through the power of the music. every single drop of aural power and every last trickle of feeling is extracted from every note, an intense, grinding approach that demolishes expectations.
while listening to "( )", i was reminded of something the icelandic composer, hilmar rn hilmarsson said... "in iceland, we had no industrial revolution, no enlightenment. our grandfathers had no electricity. then we suddenly had 300 years of technology thrust upon us in 30 years. we never truly latched on to this new technology. we never really made the transition to the modern world...". i got this sense of violent conflict between nature, and technology. obviously, with the artwork, the notion of nature is very much emphasised with the trees, grass, bushes etc, yet throughout the record itself we hear static interference, clambering industrial noises, electronic processing. very much backing up hilamrsson's claims of the clash, but also why the record is much more in touch with the occult- more to do what is invisible. what you cant see or touch, but what you feel. with out any lyrical meanings, your left to ponder on your own interpretation and thoughts, and create mini films in your mind for the songs.
track five, the first track on the second side, is based around kjarten's organ. proceeding very much like a funeral procession march. the feeling of being isolated in an enclosed space is apparent, with a longing to break free. the tempo is very long winding and gradual, with the vocal's sung in a excruciatingly painful falsetto, until, for one moment, like a moment of clarity, it goes down a scale (6:22), where somehow an acceptance is reached, before letting loose in a sublime euphoria to state this. you wonder how 10 minutes went so quickly...what you also realise upon listening, is the contributions each band member adds to the cause. from georg's bass line and orri's primal lashings in track six, to kjarten's piano refrain on track three. all bringing something entirely unique yet so vital.
track seven, is perhaps one of the darkest songs on the record. containing screeching guitars and strings, and jónsi, singing like he has a lump in his throat, because he's found out some terrible news which has turned his world upside down. sometimes fuelled with confusion, sometimes with anger as it breaks into a panicked chorus. then a feeling of denial (7:22) where he tries to make some sort of sense, order and rationality to his thoughts and mind. sometimes sounding desperate, before creating a gut wrenching build, keeping you hanging on for what seems like forever... jónsi holding a note before cranking up his reverb drenched guitar to explode, literally, into one of the most heaviest climaxes i think i've heard
the album leaves on a stunning high. opening with a strumming guitar, it is positively hopeful for the first 6 minutes. like icarus, soaring, hovering over water majestically, before things turn sinister, and he went too close to the sun (around 6:06). then the guitars sounding like they are being abused, and the drums begin to pound with more venom, gaining pace and momentum, as we begin to discover that as everything is being brought together. jónsi cooing as you plunge deeper and deeper. then (9:27), the first bombardment, the longing of breaking free being achieved. icarus just hitting the sea. and by (10:09), the second onslaught... you feel like standing in the middle of the busy street, with your hands raised to the sky, before going mad and starting a riot. destroying, smashing up everything you can see within your reach because you've just experienced being aurally fucked by an absolutely apocalyptic epic. "music" doesn't get any better than this...
... it ends with the same click it began with. then your left wondering if you've got any closure. then whether or not you care if have because it sounded as good as that. )
anyone who has listened to live recordings or seen the band live over the last few years will know many, if not all, of the songs before they press play on this album. the first few listens for me were part exhilarating, part frustrating. the joy of listening to polished, immaculately produced versions of the songs together in a context was tempered by the differences to the live recordings. the more i listened the more i left the live recordings behind, finding new things and new aspects to the songs which make them seem so fresh again.
the album starts of with vaka, which is the newest of the songs on the album. it was debuted the summer of 2001, and early versions of the songs didnęt do anything for me. seemed so boring and the song didnęt seem to go anywhere. indeed when i first got my hands on ( ) i found the first half vaka to be annoying and i kept skipping by it. the song opens with an electronic synth, then with sampled vocals by jónsi and after a few seconds the piano starts. then the amina quartet strings start and its over 2minutes before the first proper lyric is sung. as with all the songs on this album, there are no lyrics, just sounds. most of the time they work, they suit the music. for me, they just donęt work in vaka. they prove distracting and donęt suit the music. thankfully, the more i listen to the song, the more i can just get past it to the second half of the song. the vocal samples uses to accompany the lead vocals work amazingly. they make an ordinary song something very special. the current live version is utterly amazing, it helped me to appreciate the album version. there is very little vocal electronic sampling in it, just jónsi singing into the microphone with such intensity that it just shocks you. so vaka ends with more sampling, and it leads into fyrsta.
fyrsta has undergone many changes in its history, the first time i heard it was a recording from a concert in gaukur stng in iceland in october 2000. even now when i hear the album version i still expect to hear the clinking of beer glasses that can be heard in that live version. the next evolution of the song was performed at montreux jazz festival in the summer of 2001. the vocals had changed slightly, but the most important change was the background vocals that jónsi uses. sampling his own voice and playing it back. this version soon became most fans favourite. it sheer power was breathtaking. the next evolution of the song was not so good. taking the montreux version, some of the lyrics were changed and new elements were added. this just threw most people who listened it. we had grown accustomed to the montreux version and this new version wasnęt an improvement. the album version is half way between those versions. it comprises the best of the two and thankfully they succeed.
as the song progresses you hear more and more samples and bits and bobs in the back ground. the first four songs on this album are littered with these samples, vocals compressed or slowed down, repeated and reversed, other slight electronic elements added. it harks back slightly to the first album von (a much more electronic album) and is fantastically well done. a little bit more and it could have been annoying, they got the balance right. so, fyrsta ends and as per usual it feeds into samskeyti. the two songs have been inseparable for the last 18 months. this is one of my favourite live sigur rós songs. like vaka there is no drums. it seeęs orri leave the drums and sit down beside kjartan and the two of them are on piano/keyboard duty. the song starts, slowly as the elements join one by one. also in the first minute there is a slight hint of the piano melody, literally only half a note or something hidden away, teasing the listener. ah the little touches, brilliant. its an instrumental song that has jónsi sitting on the ground playing the guitar with the most amazing tune, accompanied by the kjartan and orrięs melody and goggi on xylophone this song is something to be experienced. the intertwining instruments and the strings vie with each other for the listeners attention, each time you listen you focus on something different, the slight delicate sampled vocals in the background, the piano, the guitar. simply amazing. the song ends, the last forty seconds or so are unplugged, the piano slowly ending and (presumably) jónsi unplugging his guitar and the string quartet putting down their instruments. perfect.
track four is njósnavţlin. a song that started out called the nothing song and over the last 2 years or so it hasnęt changed all that much, just improved and improved. this version adds a new break in the middle, basically its just the song speeded up for a few seconds. the production on this song is astounding, the gentle xylophone notes and the guitar and the high-pitched sample, all compliment each other and donęt drown each other out. this song has been made famous by the vanilla sky movie and saw a lot of people ask for the song at the end of the film and now thankfully they have a studio version to keep them happy at night. the song ends abruptly and just as jónsi inhales. it just finishes and with that breath the first half of the album ends.
where the first half was sweet and delicate, the second half is far more dark and brooding. the vocal samples and the electronic elements arenęt present in the second half; the songs are longer and more intense. it starts with lafóss. known before as the quiet song. a song that basically went no where, it finished like it started, quietly. the new version has a lot more bite to it, the last few minutes are a lot louder than the original version. generally a vast improvement. the use of the guitar in this song is prefect, matching the mood and the vocals, but my favourite part of this song is the very very delicate organ notes, sometimes its very hard to hear them they are so quiet. the notes are similar and the change is only slight, but the effect is amazing, like many feet walking by. as the song reaches an end, its gets louder and louder, with the guitar and drums and organ fighting for attention, and then slowly and delicately fades out.
with some distortion ebow begins. the drums are the most prominent thing as the songs start, all the other instruments seem to play around them until the vocals start. jónsi uses the bow on the guitar on this song as well as some background vocals (presumably by kjartan) and at times the lyrics just seem to float away, the use of reverb is fantastic. on occasion it feels like this album is a very very well produced live album. the band is so tight live that the use of the swimming pool for their studio aswell as ken thomasę s production help the album to have a very deep feel to the sound of the recording on the album. ebow ends, beautifully, with single notes of the guitar giving way to a more sustained tune with jónsi singing in the background slightly hidden by the guitar. fantastic. the song ends with more distortion and a repeating note until the tapping on drum sticks and bowed guitar announce the arrival of duaðalagið (death song). duaðalagið hasn't really changed all that much, there is a demo studio recording of it (along with ebow and popplagið) from early 2001 and this album version is far more powerful (and 2 minutes longer) and shows how much effort and time the band put into the recording of the songs for the album. the production is flawless. anyway....
i really donęt know where to start with duaðalagið. my highlight on the album, this version is impeccable. it builds and builds up to a crescendo, then falls back, then builds and builds ÄÄÄÄ jónsięs voice soars matched by the bowed guitar as the drums taps and then it all explodes, and continues before exploding again with what seems like a more complete sound, like another instrument added or something to the madness. by far the highlight of the album for me. as it ends one by one the instruments fall away, just jónsi singing and orri drumming. then its just jónsi singing on his own, with him singing into the strings of his guitar as background to the main vocals. sounding so vulnerable and emotional. when he is singing this song live he looks as if he is about to collapse from emotional exhaustion so intense is his face. amazing.
popplagið (pop song) is the last song. the bands encore song for a few years now, and like duaðalagið i donęt know where to begin. over the first few minutes it builds and builds with singing, drums, strings and bowed guitar, the bow gives way to more conventional guitar. the song sounds like it is going up a mountain. it builds then levels, then builds again, then the singing subsides and then half way through the mood changes, the drums are given a more central role and basically over the last 5 minutes all hell breaks loose. the song ends, the album ends.
there are some overall impressions of the album, it doesnęt have the same feel as gtis byrjun did, lacking something, but more than making up for it in other places. but with time the band have evolved so these things aren ęt as important. the use of hopelandic within the album can be a little bit over done at some points, especially with the slightly repetitive sounds it brings. all those things feel secondary and are nitpicking a little. sigur rós still have the ability to make you feel so sad and joyously happy at the same time.
( ) is as perfect a follow up to gtis byrjun as the band could have done. where gtis byrjun was full of innocence and finding your place in things, ( ) is more an album that shows the band at ease with the world, sure of their place in it. it is rawer and more honest. sometimes dark and chaotic, sometimes simple and basic, it is an album that has it all.