It took me just three minutes to fall in love with Sigur Ros' seventh album Kveikur. It's not because that's when something momentous happened, rather that's how long it took to overcome any preconceptions of what the album would offer. Hot on the heels of 2012's Valtari and the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson, there was a feeling that Kveikur could be a portrait of a band unsure of its trajectory. Instead, it's one of the Icelandic trio's most arresting and concise works to date.
Sigur Ros' international success has always overcome the obvious language barrier and, indeed, Jonsi has used that to his advantage on a number of occasions, choosing to use noise to emote in his own made up language rather than to use traditional lyrics. However, in recent years the band had seemed to rest on its laurels, creating complicated and delicate, but ultimately meandering soundscapes. That Valtari was their most understated album was no surprise. With its over reliance on classical orchestration and near absence of percussion, the Sigur Ros' experience was starting to feel a little repetitive. And yet, a mere thirteen months later, their newest effort finds the band revitalised in perhaps the most unexpected way. While the beauty and majesty of their previous albums has brought to mind wide screen and desolate Icelandic landscapes, Kveikur sounds quite simply like they've opened the gates to hell and strolled inside.
As first single and opening track 'Brennisteinn' (which literally translates as 'Brimstone') crackles into life, it becomes quickly apparent that the type of industrial metal made by the likes of Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails may have informed some of the decisions made on Kveikur. Drenched in feedback, with an ominous cymbal led drum beat and shuddering bass, the first moments of the album seem strangely alien, yet an air of familiarity is maintained when Jónsi's falsetto emerges from the ether. Crucially, this isn't going to be an album that's afraid of noise; it's loud and seems to revel in the swathes of sound it pushes through your speakers. Even as the track draws to a close and it descends into an almost lethargic brass led fade, you can't help but feel energised by what you've already heard.
Continue reading: Sigur Ros - Kveikur Album Review
As far as eclectic genres go, iTunes Festival have pretty much covered all the bases with a host of exciting acts ranging from Jake Bugg to Jessie J, and Queens of the Stone Age to Einaudi.
Since yesterday's (19 June) mega announcement that superstar 'Sex on Fire' rockers Kings Of Leon,had been added to the bill, along with 'A-Punk' New Yorkers Vampire Weekend, there's a palpable excitement in the air as fans apply for tickets and sit tight.
Gone are the old ways of leaping to your laptop at 9 am as tickets go onsale and hitting the refresh button with shaking hands whilst thousands of others do the same in a bizarre battle of the F5 keys. iTunes have revolutionised the festival - instead of making fans shell out hundreds to be treated like medieval peasants, wading through excrement whilst clutching a £5 pint of warm beer - they're holding their month long celebration of sound at the recently refurbished and highly trendy Roundhouse venue in Camden.
There's enough pop acts to make any fan of the mainstream wet themselves, including Jessie J, Justin Timberlake, Jake Bugg and Rizzle Kicks, with an added healthy dosage of big-hitting names in the rock world, such as Paramore, Queens Of The Stone Age, Primal Scream and Kings of Leon.
Continue reading: A Mighty ITunes Festival Line-Up
Although Sigur Ros have never been anything less than a great live band their current incarnation is their strongest for over a decade, since the two year period that bookended their landmark release ( ) in 2002. Like it, their current tour finds them at a creative peak, happy to give as much focus to unreleased material, if not moreso, than the album you would typically expect them to arrange a set around.
It also sees them partially regain the veil of mystery that made their music so alien and irresistible before they appeared on big-budget blockbusters and all manner of daytime television. Their stage show is much bleaker than the technicolour extravagance of their Meo suo í eyrum vio spilum endalaust & Hvarf/Heim tours, and it is also much more intense and overwhelming. A physical veil shrouds the band for the entirety of the first two tracks, dropping at the climax of Agaetis Byrjun's ' 'Ny Batteri',and projections, smoke machines and lasers further obscure them.
On their new material the Icelandic trio's sound has re-evolved to become as equally foreboding as their live show, particularly on the mammoth 'Brennstein', perhaps the heaviest song they have written in nearly twenty years of existence and certainly one of their most effecting, with a pulsing overdriven bassline and pounding drums that bare the echoes of trance, giving way to swathes of brass and strings that die the feedback of Jonsi's trademark bowed guitar. It is wrought with a nervous energy the band hinted at on Valtari but never fully explored, and it is instantly more powerful than 7/8ths of their latest full-length, the sole exception being 'Varun', which is incidentally the only track taken from it that the band choose to play live. Jonsi has stated recently that their next album will be the 'Anti-Valtari', and it is already shaping up to be a step-up from its ambient-leaning predecessor.
Continue reading: Sigur Ros - Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 5th March 2013 Live Review 2013
Latitude Festival 2008: The Contactmusic Preview
Continue reading: Latitude Festival 2008, The Contactmusic Preview
Album review of With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly by Sigur Ros reviewed by Matthew Jennings.
Continue reading: Sigur Ros, With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly Album Review
Sigur Ros's first album for 2 years is a bit of strange one; released to accompany the Heima DVD, it's not a soundtrack (there is little correlation between the songs on the CD and those on the DVD), yet neither a straight studio album. Instead it's half rarities and previously unreleased tracks, and half live acoustic versions of previously released songs. Intriguingly the title track from 1997's Von is represented on both sides, allowing listeners to compare the two renditions (more of which later).
It's all impossibly pretty of course; the band's unswerving understanding of dynamics and emotional subtleties makes for an enthralling listen, and all the more so when considering the first set here is comprised mainly of tracks previously discarded over the course of the band's career. Opener 'Salka' is a case in point; left on the mixing room floor during recording for ( ), it's actually a better track than some that made it onto the album, with a hypnotic nursery-rhyme guitar figure counterpointed by glockenspiel and the whole thing pulsing gently in a dignified stately rhythm. 'Hjómalind' on the other hand is as close to mainstream rock as the band have ventured thus far; what starts off suggesting a companion piece to Takk's 'Glósóli' throws in an unashamed anthemic hook of a chorus which possibly owes more to Doves or Elbow than any of the usual post-rock suspects. The band have disowned the track to a certain extent, which makes its appearance on the disc even more surprising - luckily it's a welcome addition to their canon. The pick 'n' mix nature of these rarities is further enhanced by the Brothers Grimm-scored-by-Tim Burton-melodrama of I gær, with an unsettling music-box intro bludgeoned away after a minute with brute noise. 'Hafsol' takes its time over ten minutes, the unexpected sound of a drumstick tapped against Georg Holm's bass strings providing a percussive groove for more trademark etherial guitar before a startling change of pace at the seven-minute mark over which a tin whistle calls a emphatic tattoo. The climax is cathartic in its explosive power, while the aftermath conveys a sense of post-orgasmic breathing slowly returning to normal levels. Heady stuff indeed.
The live acoustic numbers are, happily, no less essential, with harmonium and extra strings filling in for the band's signature bowed guitar in places and various ambient chitterings - bird calls, wind and water - audible in the background during quieter moments. 'Starálfur''s palindromic piano remains a thing of easy wonder, while 'Agaetis Byrjun' - the version here is one of the few also represented on Heima - benefits from a more muscular treatment than its polite studio sister, with deep-toned acoustic guitar over what sounds akin to a school piano. 'Heysátan' is chilly nautical brass band loveliness, the sound of horns melding with those bird calls to cast up freezing grey skies drooping over a northern harbour for an album highlight. Less effective is 'Samskeyti', slowly unwinding its mathematical patterns to nowhere in particular for a gentle five minutes. ( )'s opener 'Vaka' fares better as the harmonium adds a restrained spiritual quality over which xylophones plunk in syncopatic splendour. As for 'Von', the electric rendition clocks in at a minute longer and is, expectedly, significantly louder, yet the result is a less charming recording than its slighter sibling despite Jonsi's vocals occasionally finding themselves too high in the latter's mix.
Overall then, this is a collection which deserves a wider audience than die hard fans; the rarities are of a strong enough calibre to rank alongside much of the band's best work, and the bonus of some sympathetic reworkings ensures that the second set is more than just filler. Just don't call it 'glacial'.