Sigur Rós – Valtari

I was so excited to learn that one of my favourite Icelandic bands, Sigur Rós, had recently released  new album! And I couldn’t believe that I didn’t hear about it sooner! The fact that I haven’t talked about them sooner is even more offensive! Sigur Rós started making music in the early-mid nineties. They have a minimalist/ethereal sound that is truly incredible. It is very easy to get completely lost when their music envelops you. They also have a lot of classical influence in their sound. The lead singer, Jónsi Birgisson, has a spine-tingly falsetto voice that is perfect for their music. His voice is one of the most recognizable features in their songs, as well as musical techniques like the bowed guitar. When I first saw a video of them playing bowed guitar, I immediately had to whip out my cello bow and my guitar – magic!

The band’s international success came with the release of their second album, Ágætis byrjun, in 1999. Critics hailed the albums as one of the greats of its time. Songs from the album found their way into a lot of media, including the film Vanilla Sky and TV show Queer As Folk.  Jónsi’s signature style of vibrato bowing on his guitar started to become a defining feature for their music. In 2002, the band released one of my favourite albums, ( ). Upon its release, all of the tracks and album itself were untitled, but they later gave them titles on their website. All of the lyrics on the album are sung in “Volenska” – also called “Hopelandic” – which is a completely artificial language made up of Icelandic phonemes. As a linguist/music theorist, this is something that I find incredibly fascinating!

Their fourth album, Takk… (“Thanks…”) goes back to the distinctive sound of their second album in a more rock oriented structure with greater use of the guitar, and was released in September 2005. “Hoppípolla” (“Puddle jumping”), the second official single from Takk…, was released in November alongside a new studio remake of “Hafsól”  (Sun”), a song that was previously released on the band’s 1997 debut, Von. “Hoppípolla” was used in the trailers for the BBC’s natural history series Planet Earth in 2006, as well as the closing credits for the 2006 FA Cup final, ITV’s coverage of the 2006 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, advertisements for the BBC’s coverage of England games during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, on television advertisements for RTÉ’s Gaelic games coverage in Ireland, and on an advertisement for Oxfam. It was also used in the final scene of the movie Penelope, for the trailer of the film Children of Men and for the trailer of the film Slumdog Millionaire.  This song is also used in the trailer for the Disney movie Earth. This is another one of my favourite albums.

I completely missed the release of their fifth album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (“With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly”) in 2008 and must immediately remedy this. Stylistically different from their earlier releases, it featured fewer strings and more guitar, and had more pop-oriented songs, described as “the group’s most accessible effort” while maintaining the “majestic beauty that defines the band’s music.” Fun fact: the final track “All Alright” is the band’s first to be sung in English, though all the other lyrics are in Icelandic.

And that brings us toValtari. Bassist Georg Hólm described the album as having “more electronic stuff than before” but not being “a dance album”. I loved it right away. It has exactly the sound I’ve come to expect from the group, while being fresh at the same time. There’s really no other way to describe it as simply beautiful, haunting, and yet optimistic. Sigur Rós have given a dozen film makers the same budget and asked them to create whatever comes in to their head when they listen to songs from the band’s forthcoming album. The idea is to abandon the usual approval process from Sigur Rós, and allow film makers utmost creative freedom. The band has stated: “We never meant our music to come with a pre-programmed emotional response. We don’t want to tell anyone how to feel and what to take from it. With the films, we have literally no idea what the directors are going to come back with. None of them know what the others are doing, so hopefully it could be interesting”.

On 21 May, Sigur Rós released a video for the track “Ég Anda”, which is filmed by Ragnar Kjartansson. It is the first video from the Valtari mystery film experiment. The video shows how we should proceed if someone starts to choke.

On 6 June, Sigur Rós released a video for the track “Varúð”, which is filmed by Inga Birgisdóttir, who is the Valtari cover designer and the director of Ekki Múkk music video. It’s the second video from the Valtari mystery film experiment.  The video for  “Fjögur píanó” has sparked great controversy for having a brief bit of male genitalia – that of Shia Labeouf – especially as concerns Youtube’s nudity policies. I for one will never understand why America is so afraid of penis, but I digress… anyway the video is actually incredible.

Check out their website: Sigur Rós.  Fun fact, I was looking at their website while posting this and turns out they are in the States in July! Just bought tickets! Weekend in Philidelphia – here I come! ^___^ So excited!!!


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