when sigur rós' second full-length record, agetis byrjun, landed stateside in 2001, its extraterrestrial oozing was so unfamiliar (and, subsequently, unnerving) to american ears that it managed to finagle a staggering number of meticulously rendered comparisons to glaciers and fjords and icebergs: by year-end, it seemed oddly plausible to presume that sigur rós' songs were actually being mouthed by giant mounds of snow. something about agetis byrjun-- its celestial groping, its shimmers, its weird vastness-- seemed handcuffed to the landscape from which it was born. thus, the mythology of iceland-- of staggering literacy and longevity, of bj¨rk, of reykjavik, of volcanoes and fisheries and giant slabs of ice-- became the mythology of sigur rós. unsurprisingly, domestic intrigue peaked almost immediately: the record's liner notes and cover-- a silver alien-baby hybrid boasting angel wings-- revealed precious little about its creation, and vocalist jonsi birgisson openly admitted to howling in an entirely self-fabricated language. in 2001, sigur rós were deliciously strange, the only sensible soundtrack to post-millennial comedowns, all future and faith, bones and blood and ice and sun, culled gently from an island far, far away.
in the years that followed, sigur rós released three eps, reissued their debut, and popped out another full-length, the ever-contentious, unspeakable ( ). with each new record, the band dutifully maintained their trademark swells, bowing consistently before the altar of ebb and flow, until sigur rós began to sound less like an icecap melting and more like sigur rós. the mystery melted, the fascination faltered, and the animated, barstool retellings of the sigur rós story died down. still, sigur rós are more than just a conversation piece, meatier than their reputation, better than the otherworldly blubbers they're so casually accused of: with takk, the songcraft that once made agetis byrjun everyone's favorite sunrise record re-emerges intact. melodies stick, songs coalesce, and sigur rós lay off the grim theatrics, reminding listeners everywhere that they intend to play theaters, not funeral homes.
ultimately, takk is a warmer, more orchestral take on the band's defining sound, and easily their most instantly accessible record to date (shockingly, over a third of the album's songs clock in at under five minutes each.) the cheerless drones of ( ) are replaced by more bass, drums, piano, horns, and samples, strings are more prominent than ever before, and birgisson's lyrics are especially incidental, all barely-audible squeals and sighs. mostly, takk is ecstatic, constantly erupting in funny little waves of joy. dissenters who rejected sigur rós as the soundtrack to wrist-slittings everywhere might be temporarily perplexed by the band's new, wide-eyed giggles-- but mostly, takk just sounds like sunday morning sigur rós, all yawns and sleepy grins and quick yanks at the curtains.
"glosoli" is the record's shining center, a rapturous, tinkling swirl, with birgisson's high, squeaky howls (sounding perfectly thin and kitten-y) shooting through a thick, stomping mess of chimes and echoing guitar. the song builds slowly, finally bursting in a deafening explosion of heavily-distorted guitar slams (think, oddly, of coldplay-- particularly the end of a rush of blood to the head's "politik"). "glosoli" manages to be both ethereal and concrete at the same time, which is sigur rós most effective trick: "glosoli" tempers its fróst with curls of hot human breath, a tongue on an icicle, frozen and warm all at once. "gong" is all antsy drums and careering guitar, while the steamy "saeglopur" tiptoes from piano and tinny glockenspiel to a breathtaking vocal harmony, and, finally, an ominous swell of full-band noise, just deep enough to inspire some vicious head-nods, if not full-hip dancing. elsewhere, the band falters. "se lest" and "milano", the record's longest cuts, are both vaguely hollow-- "se lest" is too preoccupied with its own atmospherics, while "milano" meanders without meaning.
takk proves that sigur rós can, in fact, transcend their own legend: the tendency to descend into new age goo is still present, and takk, like all of sigur rós' discography, is not for the viscerally-minded. regardless, the record is more than just meaningless wisps. crank it in the late summer heat and see if it melts.