By P Blood (italics) & GITM (plain)
Posed with task of writing about a band I have had no dealings with other than “through the grapevine” encounters, it was near impossible for me to offer up a decent opinion on their new album… So I opted to bow out and let someone smarter than me, with a valid opinion, have her say instead of my usual sarcastic vitriol… I give you, GITM…
When you think of Iceland, chances are you’re thinking of white haired Viking people, eating rendered down whale fat, or slightly touched musical acts showing up to red carpet events in dead swan costumes, and reportedly eating their own clothing. I don’t really know what it is with that side of the planet that encourages that sort of unbridled eccentricity but, thankfully, it hasn’t entirely rubbed off on native post-rock group Sigur Rós yet, as they offer up their 6th studio album, Valtari. (To clarify; I think Sigur Rós are completely strange and fit in with their countrymen quite well.)
If you haven’t heard of this band before, then trying to sum them up into an eloquent little digestible might be pretty futile, since you’re probably more pleb than I am. (I am a pleb then…) The long and short of it is that they’re four dudes from Iceland, with very little formal musical training between them, yet collectively they’ve still managed to produce albums for the last 15 years that have intellectuals frothing at the mouths, (vaginas, you mean) with music that is largely ambient, echoing and atmospheric.
Sigur Rós have an uncanny ability of making me feel, at moments, like I’m suspended in the open waters of the Polar seas, or staring off into the Aurora Borealis, or some other mystical type shit. (It’s true… I wanted to go off in to the nearest forest and practice my wizardry.)
I think it’s the lack of discernible language or lyrical form in their songs, that either obscures the listener’s understanding to the point of them saying, “fuck this, I’m listening to Slayer now”, or encourages them to experience the track rather than just listen to it.
Sigur Rós is sort of the post-rock marmite; you either love it or hate it, depending on how much of a soft-cock you are. (My cock is perpetually hard – it’s why I let someone else write this.)
Although described as minimal, their songs still succeeded in creating intense crests and troughs that would somehow stir something in the vacuous black space you people call a soul. However, Valtari seems to have opted for focusing more on subtle means of making sure Sigur Rós’s unique blend of quiet-loud songs live up to this claim.
Rather than attacking guitars with cello bows, or even using much percussion at all, Valtari is presented through muffled piano accents, atmospheric and choral textures, a bit of Jónsi’s ethereal whale song vocals, and some electronic crackly static type business. (I thought the album was broken a few times.)
It’s a shame Jónsi’s dulcet singing voice didn’t really feature much on this album. It always appealed to my childish sense of whim that a grown man could reach the same frequencies as an orca. (That was a human???) Nevertheless, I’ve pardoned them this, since I found the quality of production on Valtari to be pretty sublime. For me, “the devil is in the details”, and while listening to this album I was grateful for how exhaustively laboured and manicured every track is from start to finish.
I wouldn’t hesitate to call this album one of their most subdued, which is probably a little difficult to imagine given that it’s pretty sleepy music to begin with, (I couldn’t make it through 4 tracks without needing a nap) but considering this is the first studio album they’ve released since 2008, and the fact that they tossed out half an before announcing an “indefinite hiatus”, the band has probably been feeling the pressure of maintaining mainstream appeal after, Ágætis byrjun, which was publicised as one of the greatest albums of its time. (I missed that. Where the hell was I in 2008?)
There is definitely something a little more timid and introverted about the Sigur Rós we see on Valtari, but no less brilliant than we’ve seen them before.
My only qualm with Valtari is that, while Sigur Ros took their time figuring out that this is the album they wanted to produce, certain aspects of their characteristic sound have been lynched by all these confounded, ultra-niche, dreampop/chillwave genres popping up these days, and this has diluted their charm a little bit for me.
Listening to the album, the songs have a tendency to sink into the background and hide behind the peculiar static ambience now and again, and the beauty in their music is sort of dulled over in those moments. However, the band is still wholly present and alive within this music, just in a way you wouldn’t have expected.
Highlights on Valtari for me included, Varut, Dantalogn, and the title track Valtari; probably because they sound like they came straight from the score of The Hobbit.
The only song that didn’t do it for me particularly was, Kvistur, which became so obscure I almost entirely expected Karin Dreijer Andersson to interject with something about having her dick hanging out of her pants. Otherwise, I was on good terms with the other 9 tracks.
Big thanks you to GITM for saving me having to bash my, unexposed, little mind out trying to write about these whacky Icelanders…
Suffering from an inexplicably large ego and ignoring common courtesy, Mr P. Blood indulges his opinions about whatever comes to his cesspool of a mind, and strangely people don’t seem to hate him for it. Making him a writer, of sorts.