Read it online here, or in the latest issue.
Somewhere between lapping up Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s triumphant solo efforts and replaying 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust on desperate nights, I had begun to believe we’d heard the last from this Icelandic dream quartet. Yes, their sixth studio release was very nearly abandoned, but Valtari – which translates to ‘steamroller’ – is finally tangible. The bulk of the record stems from pre-recorded material; orphaned musical tangents and tracks that outgrew the projects that birthed them. Wherever they were once hiding, these eight tracks together form a striking and cohesive work. Valtari is certainly more minimal than we’ve heard Sigur Rós before. You could almost put it in the ‘ambient’ box, given the floating soundscapes and chilling stillness of Varðeldur and the title track, amongst others. Yet Valtari doesn’t feel lacking for its subtlety. Each layer is given due time to resonate, acting in harmony with Birgisson’s falsetto instead of pushing against it. There are the characteristic breakdowns and flashes of joyous frenzy, but they, too, feel more refined. Google-translating the titles and lyrics of any Sigur Rós track is risky, given their penchant for mixing their invented ‘Hopelandic’ with Icelandic. On the mercifully easy-to-translate finale Fjögur Piano (yep, ‘Four Piano’), the notes hang in the air by a single thread, before weaving into a fittingly haunting end. This steamroller doesn’t hit all at once. It moves gently, sweeping you up inch by inch before knocking the wind out of you.