Iceland seems to be getting warmer. Sigur Rós, the enchanting sonic equivalent of a love child spawned from Björk and Bach on a minimalist kick, have cornered the market on aching beauty in the last decade with four albums of classical minimalist post-rock. They’ve upped their game this time around with Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, a bi-polar realignment of their trademark majestic shoegazing that trades the micromanaged perfectionism of their previous offerings for the gorgeous imperfection of live takes. The result is a much more organic and fluid delivery, and somehow in the process they manage to sound almost, well, happy.
A title like Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust strikes the eyes as an obnoxious display of pretense, but it actually translates to With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly, and that’s a pretty badass name for a record. It’s the first that the band has made outside their native Iceland, and they recorded in New York, London and Cuba with Nine Inch Nails knob-turner Flood. Undoubtedly inspired by the acoustic performances that were featured in last year’s Heima, the band set out to adopt a looser approach, as evidenced not only by the production but the fact that it’s being released barely a month after its completion.
In addition to replacing reverb-drowning cello-bowed guitars with actual string sections and horns, the album follows a more focused, traditional song structure than Sigur Rós’ previous efforts. The effect, however, is an advancement of their sound through a less-is-more simplified philosophy that doesn’t stay entirely constant, but remains the prevailing mindset of the album.
The lost-in-space aimless wanderings of Festival are counterbalanced by the straightforward poptastic action on Vi Spilum Endalaust, almost as if Death Cab For Cutie moved to Iceland and renounced the English language.
The feather-light pensive piano piece All Alright features the first English-language vocals on a Sigur Rós release, but it still sounds as if singer Jónsi Birgisson’s got a mouth full of marbles. Album opener Gobbledigook, on the other hand, is as upbeat and optimistic as the limits of imagination will allow for this band. Layered vocals, drums and handclaps in 8ths, fairy “lalalalalalala” vocals and coos chase you down before breaking into an interesting intermingling of chants and acoustic guitars. This one’s a keeper.
There’s a repeated part in the third minute of the lovely Illgresi that somehow echoes Bryan Adams’ Heaven, and the song is forever ruined as a result.
Stripping songs to the point where sometimes the loudest sound is that of fingers sliding on layered acoustics, this is Rós laid bare and beautiful as ever, but veers with unexpected velocity towards the epic with the appearance of a 70-piece orchestra, a 5-piece brass section and a boys’ choir, as well as an appearance from Icelandic string quartet Amiina. Bi-polar as it may be, on the whole the album delivers.
Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust is a beautiful display of Sigur Rós’ ability to create the perfect soundtrack to the soul’s departure from the body, a series of frozen moments bathed in a hazy light, like the distant sound of a trumpet across the battlefield as a dying warrior falls into darkness. It’s hardly an album you could cut into tracks and sell as singles. There is an essence to the whole that amplifies the sum of its parts.
Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
EMI, XL Recordings
Available June 23, 2008
2. Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur
3. Góðan Daginn
4. Við Spilum Endalaust
6. Suð Í Eyrum
7. Ára Bátur
11. All Alright
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.