All images courtesy of Sigur Rós Facebook (official)
Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson of Sigur Rós wrote the following on his band’s website in 1999: “We are not a band, we are music. We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. And don’t think we can’t do it, we will.” This mission statement has guided the band through a more than twenty-five-year career.
Sigur Rós is a band from Reykjavík, Iceland formed in 1994. Their name means Victory Rose. The original lineup featured Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson (guitar and vocals), Georg Holm (bass), and Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson (drums). Their debut record was Von, which was mostly instrumental mixed with various ambient sounds. It featured the track “Eighteen Seconds Before Sunrise,” which became the name of their website. It had a very ambient feel. It was well-received in Iceland but ignored elsewhere selling only three-hundred and thirteen copies in Iceland. Aegitis Byrjun was Sigur Rós’ next record and gave the band a worldwide profile. This was my introduction to the band as well.
I spent a lot of time with this record, and honestly, I knew very little of the band as info in 1999 has harder to come by. Instant access via the internet was still in its early stages, but I became intimately familiar with this album and read any articles I could find in magazines. This was truly a blind buy, and I had no idea what it would sound like. I had heard the name, but they could have been a Swedish metal band for all I knew.
( ) is the third album by Sigur Rós. ( ) was highly anticipated after the success of Aegitis Byrjun, and the greater exposure it afforded them. This is commonly referred to as “the bracket album.” It may only be slightly better than its predecessor, but that album for me is nearly perfect. The songs are sung in a made-up language called “hopelandic.” None of the tracks had track names listed early on, but the song names were later released by the band. There are eight tracks on the album.
It starts with “Untitled 1 (Vaka),” which was also released as a single. A gorgeous way to start the album. A soothing emotional piano intro pulls at your heartstrings with its initial notes. “Fyrsta” follows and is another slower track that starts with some nice guitar work opposing the piano of the first track. It maintains the mood of “Vaka,” but with different instrumentation. The song fades out with some nice organ. “Samskeyti” is next, and is an instrumental track that features a catchy piano riff.
“Njosnavelin” is track four, and keeps the same mood with some nice guitar playing. Jonsi almost sounds as if he is saying desire or esire on this song, but since the whole thing is in hopelandic, I assume it is a made-up word. “Alafoss” ends the first half of the album, and slowly builds with organ. The amazing thing about this record is the consistency of the mood. It all fits together so nicely. There is a nice use of guitar distortion here as well, subtle but well placed.
We have now arrived at the second half of the record. The musical journey continues with “E-Bow,” so named after the e-bow used on the bass, this is a brooding ominous track. About a minute and a half in, Jonsi’s voice comes in over the drums, which beat slowly. The song continues to build with distorted guitar becoming more and more prominent. The music continues upward until it reaches a climax, and echoes out into the next track, “Dauoalagio.” This is the longest song on the record. It fades in with more slow drumming, distorted guitar, and bass. Jonsi’s vocal enters more quickly, and the song becomes very sparse at this point. Just drums and his vocals briefly before the other instruments return. “Popplagio,” which translates as “pop song,” is the epic closer at over eleven minutes long. Live, they sometimes stretch it out over fifteen minutes and often use it as the concert closer.
I was fortunate enough to witness the spectacle of Sigur Rós in concert on two occasions. The first experience was an outdoor concert. It was raining lightly, which created the perfect mood for this music. They were touring for the album Kveikur. The set of fifteen songs featured songs from Aegtis Byrjun, ( ), Takk, Valtari, Med suo i eyrum vio spilum endalaust, and Kveikur. The encores were “Glosoli,” and “Popplagio,” which are the regular closers and an epic way to end things.
The second show I saw was in a theatre, and they were a trio by this point. The theatre atmosphere didn’t work as well sonically due to the style of the music. It was very bass-heavy and needed more space for the music to fully be heard in all its glory.
All in all, ( ) is an epic piece of work. As amazing as all of their records are, I have to rate this as my favorite. A must-listen for everyone.
Please enjoy the video below regarding this classic album:
Be sure to check out the full archives of Surface Noise, by John Siden, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/surface-noise-archives/