the glacial icelandic quartet discover pop and an inner beauty, to ben thompson's delight (*****)
a robe-free polyphonic spree, a depoliticised godspeed! you black emperor, a less unforgivably insipid talk talk, mogwai with the heavy metal taken out, the cocteau twins trying to sound like radiohead and not quite managing it, a castrati pink floyd performing aled jones's 'walking in the air' at a benefit gig for a reindeer which lost a leg in an unfortunate sledging accident.
the further you look in search of a historical precedent for the echoing vault at the centre of sigur rós's music, the more this icelandic quartet seem to be defined by what they aren't, rather than what they are. but their fourth album, takk - their first for emi, each of this record's two independently distributed predecessors having sold more than half a million copies - is the sound of them looking into the heart of that absence and finding something beautiful there.
those who have so far been reluctant to board the sigur rós bandwagon tend to feel that their music bears the same relation to björk's as muse's does to radiohead's, in that they make the kind of records which their more creatively restless precursor's less adventurous fans would have loved them to go on making. as opposed to all that crazy artistic stuff they decided to go and do instead. but with takk, sigur rós have raised their game, to the extent that 'glósóli"s euphoric power-surge and the ice age balladry of 'hoppípola' tap into the same exquisitely modern sense of simultaneous connectedness and disconnection that orbital defined when they titled 'halcyon (and on and on)' after their mother's brand of tranquillizers.
in a bold break with the self-conscious blankness of 2002's (), these 11 songs actually have titles and lyrics. more important than that, they eschew the stately meander that has been sigur rós's stock-in-trade for a bold commitment to the big pop chorus.
in the past, this group have sometimes exhibited an almost paranoid determination not to make demands on their listeners, but with this record they have started to make demands on themselves. not in the way the final track on their last, stop-gap release (three songs for avant-garde choreographer merce cunningham to get people dancing to) suggested they might - by hiding stanley knives in the frosted candy floss - but by tightening their happy-clappy focus so the euphoria generated by their music seems to relate directly to the world people actually live in, rather than some elvish fantasy realm.
driving down the motorway as the sun goes down is one thing. but will takk stand up to the ultimate road test? will it still be able to conjure up euphoric snowscapes of the mind as a soundtrack to the consumption of a takeaway curry, parked in the forecourt of the budget holiday inn express at the entrance to the limehouse link tunnel on a hot summer's evening? as the cosmic drama of 'mílanó' unfolds, the fragrant aroma of pilau rice is momentarily forgotten, and the atmosphere crackles like morning hoar-frost beneath the heel of an ox-blood dr marten.
so i guess that's a yes, then.
burn it: 'glósóli'; 'hoppípola'; 'mílanó