Tuesday 29 May 2012

Sigur Ros - Valtari

It's almost impossible to talk about Sigur Ros without sounding like a pretentious arsehole.  But something odd happens when listening to their music; time becomes infinite, you lose all sense of space, your spirits lifted, your body reduced to a quivering wreck of emotion.

Thankfully little has changed with 'Valtari', the Icelandic band's sixth studio album following 2008's 'Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaus
t' (trans. 'With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly'). The music has much the same impact - at once intensely intimate and personal, yet vast in its scope, warping your perceptions and transporting you to the deepest recesses of your thoughts.

'Valtari' is immediately recognisable as Sigur Ros, but things are a little different here.  The band have eschewed the typical crescendo structure that sees each track exploding towards an erupting, volcanic climax.  Gone, too, is the focus on melody that has made hits of Hoppípolla and Glósóli especially.  Instead, there is a focus on timbre and texture, allowing the music to breathe beyond the constrictions of structure.  Sigur Ros are the artist, their musical colours bleeding together into an abstract watercolour, yet chosen from the usual ethereal palette of oscillating strings, bowed guitars, electronics, glacial percussion and Jónsi Birgisson's falsetto vocals.

Title track Valtari (trans. Steamroller) is the longest, holding the listener in a state of suspense within its cosmological ambience - much like the album's cover art.  The celestial choir of Dauðalogn (trans. Dead Calm) has a real spiritual quality that weeps into subsequent track Varðeldur (trans. Campfire). Two major highlights are single Ekki Múkk (trans. Not Seagull) and Varúð (trans. Caution).  The latter, especially, is phenomenal - its greater emphasis on electronica painting a darker picture, its swelling string chorus soaring along with the haunting vocals as they repeat "Varúð" like a divine warning.  The weakest track is closer Fjögur píanó (trans. Four Pianos), if only for its single-focus on piano lacking the rich textures of the other tracks (though this does expand into a wonderful haze of synths and strings towards the end).

'Valtari' really is an achingly beautiful album, containing some of the band's most accomplished work to date that, song by song, perpetually stuns.  It's enough to bring a tear to the eye of even the stoniest of hearts.  Like the best works of art, it allows the listener to melt into a higher plane, losing themselves in a personal realm of picturesque thoughts and abstract dreams.  With 'Valtari', Sigur Ros have reached Nirvana.


Gizzle's Choice:

* Ekki Múkk
* Varúð

Listen: 'Valtari' is available now.

Watch: The band will be touring the US and Europe over the summer.