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san francisco chonicle review of ( )


remember hypertext, the interactive literary conceit that was going to kill off outdated linear storytelling? while we may still be muddling along with our moldy old paperbacks, the icelandic band sigur ros has smuggled the idea into pop, creating a compact disc in which the listener plays as much a role in the experience as the band.

that's only a little misleading. the music on the curiously titled "( )" is in fact fixed; what's burned onto the disc, the band's light-headed, purposefully indecipherable musical fever state, is staying that way.

but lead singer jon thor birgisson, who sings -- more precisely, murmurs and trills -- in an imaginary vocabulary he calls "hopelandish," has invited fans to participate in the interpretation of the group's third record. listeners can submit their own translations of the lyrics to the band's web site; a computer program will scan the input and create an "official" lyrics sheet.

as with sigur ros' 2000 breakout album, "agaetis byrjun" -- a clear inspiration for radiohead's recent "amnesiac" experiments -- the new record's eight unnamed tracks explore a vast, remote tundra of sound, dirge-y yet weightless delusions like the periodic whiteouts on "six feet under." it's a new, muted, heavy-blanketed brand of psychedelia; this is music to lose yourself inside. as unusual a major-label record as we're likely to hear this year, "( )" is a pretty puzzle.

(james sullivan )



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