24 June, 2008

The Sun over Reykjavic

For a long time, I have found Sigur Ros's music unbearably depressing. It's usually dark and long-winded, with a sepulchral chamber music eeriness. It's in another language, which need not be a barrier if the mood is open and inviting, but instead I find their songs cold, stark, and vaguely mechanical: alien in the science fiction sense. There are times when I find certain songs endearing and enjoyable, and Takk... (their 2005 release) actually has a very nice mix of sounds. However, as a rule of thumb, I try to stay clear of Sigur Ros when I'm not incandescently glowing with happiness.

I may have to break my rules now that Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust (which is quite a mouthful in any language) has been released. This album is a pocketful of Icelandic sunshine, and even the slow-tempo songs are more lullaby than requiem.

If we begin at the beginning, then we find "Gobbledigook". Pounding drums, guitars that harmonize ever so perfectly with Jonsi Birgisson's vocals, and a fairy chorus of "falalalala's" conspire to create something fairly magical, and far from gloomy. "Inni mer syngur vitleysingur" is home to an equally upbeat percussion section, but their are also more precious sounds. If my ears do not deceive me, then bells and/or a xylophone, possibly a glockenspiel, and a piano all make appearances on this song. "Godan daginn" is the first slow song, where the jazzy/folksy brushes are used on the drums. The guitars are soft but constant, while what sounds like pedal steel ethereally waltzes over the whispered lyrics. This is a beautiful song. "Vid spilum endalaust" reminds me of The Strokes meets Coldplay. The rhythm is metronomically consistent with just a touch of fuzziness laid over the top, but the lyrical structure and delivery are extremely reminiscent of Chris Martin. "Festival" is a haunting song that is almost a cappella. If you listen closely, then you can hear smudges of music, and shadows that bounce around Birgisson's voice. "Med sud i eyrum" rolls with marching band precision, while the piano and the pedal steel float around on the outskirts of the song. "Ara batur" is simple and hushed. Instead of sounding hollow and empty, "Ara batur" sounds like an echoing chamber or a shell when it's pressed to your ear. It's a song that is full of emotion, but very subtle in sound. "Illgresi" is also a subtle song, with the hand-sliding on the acoustic guitar playing a large role in the musicality. Birgisson's voice can do many things. It is controlled both tonally and emotionally, and Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust is an album that de-constructs and redefines the sounds surrounding Birgisson's vocals to the point where they are really center stage. "Fljotavik" for instance, sounds like a duet, but it's really just Birgisson singing with his famous falsetto and singing normally. "Straumnes" is the only song on this most recent album that places the vocalization to the side. It flows like great soundtrack music, and fits perfectly with the rest of the album. At the very end, we have "All Alright", a soft and sleepy song that bookends a long day.

To listen to Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust is to listen to a long and beautiful day in its entirety. From sunrise through midday, to dusk and the twinkles of the most distant stars, Sigur Ros plays the soundtrack to a good day. I think it shows musical maturity that this band can express such perfect happiness in album form. I always say that it's more difficult to write funny stories, then it is to write sad stories. You don't have to look very far for sadness; it's all around. Humor and deep happiness are more complicated emotions, and they're often hidden by the obvious. Sigur Ros has now released their "funny story", and I find myself all the more attracted to their music, and more willing to be impressed by their previous compositions because of their willingness to search for the sunshine.

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