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The Sound of Something New: Sigur R˛s' └gaetis Byrjun (Fat Cat/Bubblecore)

by Dave heaton

I love it when music comes along that forces critics to throw away their crutches and look for new words to describe it. Critics like to sum up bands with neat little tags and genre names; these are always too vague to mean much, but especially so in the case of Sigur R˛s, Icelandic superstars and Rolling Stone's recent pick as "hot new band." I suppose "ambient rock" is an OK start, since they set up moods beautifully but also rock, but that's only a start, and really not that good of one, honestly. To lay all of my cards out on the table, I'll admit that I have a really hard time describing Sigur R˛s ' music. I'm clueless, don't know where to begin.

Their latest album └gaetis Byrjun, the first available in North America, begins with "Svefn-G-Englar," one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. It starts off with sonar tunes, slow dreamy rock, and an amazingly high, pretty voice, eventually mutating into a full-on rock song vaguely reminiscent of Radiohead. The highest compliment I can pay Sigur R˛s is that their music surprises me at every moment. Instruments continually arrive mid-song just to catch me off guard: Wait, is that a violin? A flute? A steel guitar? The first time I listened to the album straight through, I found myself dropping my jaw in awe, no kidding, at some point during nearly every track. Their music mystifies me. The first time I heard one of their songs, I thought it was a woman fronting a mini-orchestra, with strings and woodwind players. Then I saw a picture of them; they're four guys who look like hundreds of other rock bands.

└gaetis Byrjun is filled with all sorts of magnificent sounds, from stretches of pretty string arrangements to bombastic rock. And most of the time this is during the same song. Take "Viorar Vel Til LoftÓrÓsa," for example. It starts as a funky shuffle before it's interrupted by a soaring beast of noise, then settling into a quiet, slow mediation with occasional melodic breaks. The song moves forward with a thick intensity, culminating in a surprisingly loud mess of explosions and noise, the sound of the world's end.

Sigur R˛s are vaguely in the same vein as other musicians who've tried to create an atmosphere of dreaminess, from the shoegazers to the most recent wave of blissed-out ambient and electronic artists, but at the same time they're in their own place altogether. With └gaetis Byrjun, nothing can be taken for granted. Assumptions will be blown away, categories will explode, descriptions will prove meaningless second by second. It's hard to talk about music like this without falling into excessive hyperbole, but I think that's says as much about the newness of their music as it does about the limitations of language. This is something you should pay attention to, now.

Issue 3, October 2000 | next article


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