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Icelandic melodies are unmistakable blend of new flavors

Vince Labriola | Thursday, September 29, 2005

They have collaborated with Radiohead, been lauded by Chris Martin of Coldplay, and with their new album entitled “takk…” Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós have produced a new, lighter sound that may move them into the limelight shared by the aforementioned bands and others in mainstream alternative music.

Their most accessible album to date, “takk…” is simultaneously fiery and uplifting, an intense, atmospheric album that is great for long walks with the iPod or simply as background music while studying.

“takk…” is by no means a traditional album, continuing the trend Sigur Rós set with their first release, 1997’s “von.” That album was never widely released in the U.S., but the group’s second effort, “ágætis byrjun,” was released in America to excellent reviews and established the band as a difficult, if ultimately rewarding, listening experience. Both “von” and “ágætis byrjun” are long, emotional albums with individual tracks that often take as long as 10 minutes to play out, filled with electronic buzzes and strange instruments that can haunt the listener well after the music has ended.

Perhaps the most signature element of Sigur Rós’ compositions are the ethereal, sexless vocals that drift through the tracks. They are spoken in Icelandic and, for the most part, seem completely incomprehensible.

The vocals become yet another part of the evocative arrangements that Sigur Rós is known for. This new effort is no different. Although vocals were completely missing from the band’s previous album, given the unpronounceable title “( ),” “takk…” is filled with wistful spoken melodies that permeate every track. However, “takk…” is a much more traditionally structured album than those that preceded it. Ambient noise fills much less space on the tracks, without compromising the elegant, slow, plodding style that typified previous albums. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to talk about individual tracks on “takk….” When the album is listened to from beginning to end it’s nearly impossible to discern where one song ends and the next begins.

Such is the case with “von,” “ágætis byrjun” and “( ),” but those three albums are heavy and dark, with only moments where the music eases up from its relentless drive onward. In short, they’re not the best albums to listen to when you’re having a bad day, but they are the best albums to listen to when you want to brood. “takk…,” by comparison, dedicates a considerable amount of time to simple, repetitious bell and xylophone melodies that give several songs an uplifting quality missing from Sigur Rós’ earlier albums.

This is most apparent in the second and sixth tracks of the album, titled “glósóli” and “saeglópur,” respectively. The latter in particular builds melodies and vocals on top of one another in such a powerful and unique way that while it is certainly a new sound, it remains unmistakably the work of Sigur Rós.

Considered one of the most “artsy, avant-garde” groups currently producing, there is no doubt that Sigur Rós is an acquired taste. However, with “takk…” the band was willing to explore new ends of the musical spectrum and, as a result, created yet another amazing album. More than anything else, Sigur Rós has created their own unique brand of alternative music, and if you’re in the mood for something intense, emotional and, most importantly, different, the Icelandic melodies on “takk…” are worth spending some time with.