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new york times review of ( )

from iceland via the late 60's

in skeptical, self-conscious times, sigur ros offers reverence without religion and grandeur without guilt. its songs are processionals and elegies, and a single one can stretch as long as 13 minutes on the band's third album, "( )" (mca/universal), which is due for release on tuesday; the band is to perform on friday at the beacon theater.

sigur ros's music unfolds in inexorable crescendos of thickening keyboards and resonant guitars, parting now and then to reveal jon thor birgisson's fragile high voice. on "von" ("hope," 1997) and "agaetis byrjun" ("a good beginning, 1999), mr. birgisson sang in icelandic about war, elves, sin, salvation and being born. but the eight songs on "( )" are untitled and sung in an invented language he calls hopelandic.

as its wordless title suggests, "( )" focuses on the way the music crests and subsides, undistracted by verbal meaning. the string sections that enveloped the band on "agaetis byrjun" have receded, leaving craggy open spaces. the results resemble pink floyd without the mundane specifics and radiohead without the jitters. although the songs are expansive, they are never serene. in the album's final track, the pent-up suspense explodes. because sigur ros is from iceland, its music is inevitably compared to iceland's glaciers and fjords. but sigur ros's music hails just as clearly from an equally otherworldly realm: the psychedelic late 1960's, when musicians communed with their instruments to explore every available sound. in the 21st century, sigur ros could avail itself of countless electronic gizmos and effects. but it seeks revelation the old-fashioned way, with fingers and sticks and amplifiers: an old-time religion of restraint, simplicity and concentration.

(jon pareles)



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