Valtari by Sigur Rós (Parlophone, 2012. 54 minutes)
Sigur Rós is an Icelandic band, originally formed in 1994. The band is known for ethereal sounds, and falsetto singing by lead singer, Jónsi. The band was named after Jónsi’s sister, Sigurrós.
Art and Song
Most bands have to find a natural compromise between the art of the song and the ability to make money. Some bands fall into the full on “pop” world, while others try to fight the mainstream and do something completely original. Sigur Rós falls into the latter category. The band has created an art-form which is completely unique, and a song style which I would argue cannot be replicated. The band, and lead singer Jónsi have formed art: something that I think will defy contemporary music and stand the test of time.
Now, normally, I praise bands for evolving and moving on from their past. I have trouble doing so with Sigur Rós, as the band has carved out a niche so deep that I’m sure it’s hard to climb out. Jónsi emerged into the pop world with his solo career, but it seems as though he and fellow bandmates are happy to crawl back into their supremely distinct sound. Frankly, I have trouble blaming them for doing so. I’m even somewhat thankful that the band hasn’t begun poking around major keys and faster, upbeat themes.
Valtari (the Icelandic word for steamroller) marks the band’s first album in four years, and carries the same sonic textures we’ve come to know from them. Minor key gloom washes over the album, with the exception of the song “Varúō”, which takes approximately four minutes to get to a smashing, ear-bleeding climax of percussive explosion. What I do enjoy most is there is little of the indie-pop charm of “Gobbledigook” on this track, and on the album in general. Perhaps Sigur Rós is intentionally and carefully crafting art now.
Another song of note has a quiet, almost stereotypical soundtrack piano playing in the background on the major downbeats. “Varōeldur” spans over a behemoth six minutes in length, much like on the rest of the album. The song is deceptively simple, with guitars slowly swooning, Jónsi quitely cooing, and chimes distantly ringing in the background. It conjures an image of a sweet moment, a past love, or a favorite incident.
Hypnosis in Sound
“Valtari”, the title track, emerges as the penultimate track, with almost eight minutes in length, slowly enveloping the listener’s ear in hypnotic sound.
“Varōeldur” and “Fjögur píanó” are similar in theme. While I do want to criticize Sigur Rós for not developing their sound any, it’s hard to. I think the fact that the band doesn’t move past their previously developed sound perhaps just proves how original the band is. While the album isn’t exactly what one would call exciting, it’s beautiful.
A steamroller is exactly what the album is: a beautiful, slow-moving, minimalist steamroller. The band has long dealt in the expansive, repetitive, and minimalist world, where vocals gradually accumulate to a climax, and where reverb reigns. The band’s sound is artful. Valtari is perhaps more calming than anything, something to listen to while you sip a bit of scotch or cocoa and sit by a fire while you gaze outside into the beauty of the world.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 What do you think of the album? Do you find it original, or something similar to the band’s past? Do you enjoy the artful take of the band, or find it boring? Share your thoughts below. — Posted by: Andrew Jacobson