wes anderson had it half right. using the sigur ros song ''staralfur" to accompany a voyage into a watery, alien landscape in ''the life aquatic with steve zissou" seemed like an appropriate choice. anderson probably reasoned that because sigur ros creates sounds that are otherworldly -- lead singer jon thor birgisson warbles in a falsetto that approximates a lovesick, hermaphroditic extraterrestrial -- that the quartet's music would be ideal for a scene involving a jacques cousteau-inspired trip into an ocean of stop-motion animated mollusks.
so far, so good. but this was a happy scene (as far as anderson can write and direct happy), and sigur ros does not make happy music. that does not change with the band's fourth album. but reading the tone of ''takk" (geffen), it could be deduced that things have improved in the band's private universe.
unlike 2002's ''( )," the songs on ''takk" (which means ''thank you" in icelandic) have titles, are less meandering, and far less dense. overall, the changes are subtle, and casual listeners who have been turned off by the band's experimental tone will be no more impressed by ''takk." but sigur ros is a band that requires patience. the songs unfold at their own languorous pace, which often means eight or more minutes of plaintive layering. but with ''takk," sigur ros takes tentative steps toward acknowledging the world that exists outside of its own head. ''se lest," which climaxes with a brass band playing a waltz, is a hypnotic series of wailing waves that crash exquisitely over a twinkling music box.
any conjecture about the mood of the album is exactly that. the members of the band are maddeningly tight-lipped about their emotional state and the seeds of their inspiration. lyrics also provide no clues, because what is not sung in icelandic is sung in an imaginary language of phonetic gobbledygook. since its inception in 1994, sigur ros has performed canorous emotions, not songs, and accepting the band's lack of musical structure is first frustrating, and subsequently exhilarating.
in the middle of the album's sprawling song cycle sits ''hoppipolla," perhaps the closest that sigur ros has gotten to a conventional pop song. internet message boards and optimistic critics will no doubt herald ''takk" as sigur ros's crossover to prog rock.
thankfully, it is no such thing. like all sigur ros albums, ''takk" is the soundtrack to a dreamy imaginary film that unfolds in a recording studio that was once an indoor swimming pool outside of reykjavik. the lighter tone of the album has done little to minimize the pathos of the music. side effects from repeated listening still include goose pimples and an eerie feeling of inner calm. but with ''takk," the list of sigur ros side effects now includes occasional moments of blissful euphoria.