05 Jul, 2013

Sigur Rós: “Kveikur”

sigurros_4161When Sigur Rós began as an iconic post rock band, their music held an ethereal, untouchable quality.  However, as their work gained more upbeat pop qualities on top of their original sound, many felt they had begun to stagnate. Though they had helped to define the post rock genre, their work had become lost amongst that of their peers.  With their newest album, however, they have experienced a grand return to form, combining the feel of their earliest work with the instrumental talent of their later compositions.  With this new direction, they have created what may be their best album.

Fans of Sigur Rós will feel both at home and cast adrift in their latest album Kveikur.  The work opens with the dramatic and powerful “Brennisteinn”, featuring the familiar melancholic lyrical work of Jón Birgisson, this time aloft over much more intense drumming than often seen in the band’s work, and reverberations not seen in their work to date.  This powerful opening paves the way for this new, but not wholly unexpected, direction the band has decided to take.  As the work progresses it continues its departure from the safe lightheartedness of Með suð í eyrum við spilum endaluaust, producing a sound closer to the melancholy of Valtari, the more complex instrumental work of Ágætis Byrjun, and the band’s haunting inaugural work Von.

As they progress into the album, devotees of Sigur Rós will appreciate the renewed emotional depth of the work, with even the most lighthearted song on the album, “Ísjaki”, featuring a complex range of expression in the vocal work, expressing both joy and sorrow with equal intensity.  The distorted vocals in “Yfirborð” provide an interesting and compelling transition as the album slides back to the distortion of the opening track after the interlude of “Ísjaki.”  As the album moves into “Stormur”, the driving rhythms of the drums pick up with new passion as the listener nears the title track, while the song still manages to retain a unique sound with light tubular bells in the background.

The title track “Kveikur”, along with “Brennisteinn”, are arguably the most compelling and unique tracks on the album, with the title track once again bringing to full force the harsh distortions threatened throughout the album.  Overlaid with a barely audible choral sound and the once familiar vocals of Jónsi darker and more intimate than his well known falsetto.  His voice meshes with the distortions of the track to provide a listening experience unlike anything to come from Sigur Rós before.  The powerful drumming and bass line continue to drive the song forward, only to fade at the end into a haunting and memorable conclusion.

Following the force of “Kveikur”, the track “Rafstraumur” provides some relief, acting as a slight return again to the lighthearted sound of “Ísjaki”.  However the continued presence of the drums keeps the song from breaking the mood set by the album, before raising back to a drum heavy crescendo in the second half of the song.

As the album enters its final songs, the vocals again become more ethereal, the drums remaining prominent, but not as intensely driving as the middle of the work.  The penultimate song “Bláþráður” opens with sorrowful notes, foreshadowing what is to come, and ends in a haunting and stark contrast to the body of the song as it opens into the last song on the main album: “Var”.

The final track of the album (barring the extra works released in addition) forms a pained but beautiful lament as it closes the album on a somber, but fitting note; the piano leads the song along almost entirely, the drums long since forgotten, as the album fades out, finishing one of their most engaging and compelling works to date.

With this new direction, Sigur Rós has regained their depth of feeling, while combining it with their instrumental prowess, and in doing so they’ve established that they are still a powerful force within the musical community. Though casual fans may be dissuaded from the path they’ve chosen, followers of the band will find their new work engaging and profoundly impressive to listen to.

Review by Jake Cazden

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