For the uninitiated: Sigur Rós is an Icelandic post-rock/ambient band that formed in 1994 and has since then garnered quite the amount of praise and critical acclaim for their very moody, emotional, epic album pieces. The band didn’t really get any recognition until the release of Ágætis byrjun and (), the two albums are considered by fans as the bands best work to date. Unfortunately, the band has yet to reach this high critical acclaim again in the time since the release of these two albums. The 2012 release of Valtari was thought of as lackluster and underwhelming by critics when compared to the bands magnum opuses. The band then announced the upcoming release of their next album titled, “Kveikur”, and it was set to be released March 22nd. As you would expect many fans were ecstatic to hear the news but some people were worried; and reasonably so. For one, the band’s last few albums were not up to par of Ágætis byrjun, and (), and second, Kjartan Sveinsson, the bands keyboardist, had just dropped from the band. It seemed very unlikely for the band to come out on top and succeed.
And yet, somehow they pulled it off.
Right on the first track, long-time listeners of Sigur Rós will realize this album is a very different beast from Valtari; as well as from other past releases. Brennisteinn begins with this harsh electric bass synth and pounding drums that would make you question if you are even listening to the same band that produced something like (). Following that are the easily recognizable, incoherent vocals of lead singer, Jónsi. Yup, it’s still Sigur Rós, albeit, a very different Sigur Rós. Brennisteinn is a bit of a deceiving opening track though. Yes, this album has a different sound from previous releases, an arguably more aggressive and accessible sound, but it isn’t as hard-hitting or, aggressive as the opening track might make it seem. All of the songs still have the post-rock like feel to all of them that returning listeners have come to know and love, but with the addition of shorter song lengths. This is Sigur Rós’ most accessible album to date, without a doubt. For example: catchier melodies, less winding songs, and more active songs, with less ambient sections. Now, some of you might be getting worried, thinking that they have changed too much or, god forbid, they sold out, or something ridiculous like that. This music is definitely not the kind you are going to hear on the Top 20 Hits or what not. It is just easier to listen to, more to the point than previous outings, and has little more pop sensibility to it. The songs themselves are fantastically written and composed, with each song having its own individual sound. Among other positive notes on this album, it’s also got quite the number of standout tracks with little filler. Brennisteinn is the obvious example but just about the entire album is great with the exception of Yfirbord. To me, it felt somewhat underwhelming in comparison to the rest of the tracks on the album but it’s not particularly bad per se, just not great. For me personally the opening track, of course, and the closing instrumental Var, is some of my favorite tracks of the album.
So if any of you have yet to listen to this and are doubtful about the bands future, rest assured. This release does not spell the end of Sigur Rós; it’s quite the opposite actually. If anything, this album is the beginning of a new journey towards the band’s new sound, wherever that may take us. Wherever that path does end up taking us, I can honestly I’m excited to see what comes next and what new concoction the band has ready to cook up.