When you cry, you cry alone. Unless you’re at a Sigur Rós concert. Then you’re just a blubbery mess along with every other paying customer. I picture this happening to their new song, “Festival,” and it’s not so ridiculous. Then, around the five minute mark, a thundering rock drum crescendo kicks in and I’m picturing all these bawling patrons jerking about to the beat. Then it’s ridiculous -- but still not totally. It’s not so much “had to be there” as it is “have to be open to it.” In my experience, there’s no telling whether I’ll find their music cloyingly dramatic or tremendously moving. Like a lot of melodramatic rock music, it can be so fitting to your mood as to make you forget that you had the same exact emotional reaction to the trailer for Far And Away before sniggering it off to yourself. Music lovers are dying for such naked opera as the music on this and other Sigur Rós, but we don’t usually interact with it on any real-life plain. On occasion, we want our lives to feel as though they have the grace of a cinematic culmination. And every song this group has ever done has this feel.
At their best, Sigur Rós are like a baroque counterpart to M83. But when it curdles in your ears, it might as well be the adult-contempo, alterna-torch song review. In other words, things are so shimmery and precious at times as to become somehow sterile. One suspects the group is trying to be earnest with their melodies, perhaps due to the strong resonance of the hauntingly alien way Jón Ãžór Birgisson sings. But there’s been something very stale about the production values ever since their parentheses record. It’s stuffy and overblown and more like a Spielberg movie than a Wes Anderson one (the aforementioned “Festival” would work great in a brooding Lynch setting). Though I gotta say I’m bowled over every time by the finale to “Ara Batur,” even if it immediately calls to mind a rousing, explosive, Titanic sort of movie trailer.
The least typical Sigur Rós song on here would have to be their first single, “Gobbledigook.” It’s yet another sand-off-the-edges take on a more interesting underground sound (boy, I’m tired of this trend), but it’s certainly a charming, uplifting track. In fact, one wishes the band had explored more Animal Collective-type workouts (“Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur” and “Sud I Eyrum” both have that propulsive, upfront drum attack, but the melodies are too standardized Rós to make it seem like anything more than a studio gimmick) rather than slight, predictable piano ballads like “Fljotavik.” It’s not that there isn’t anything good on this album. There’s just nothing extraordinary. There’s nothing like the first three tracks on ( ) -- or “Olsen Olsen” -- or “Svefn-G-Englar.”
Things just go from mad galloping gobbledigook to spongy sentiment. And they used to sound off as though a blue whale were passing over your head. Nowadays, Sigur Rós frequently just sounds like another life-affirming Hollywood pastiche just fleeting to happen. It’s too bad, really, because they are one of the more distinctive music acts out there to have crossed over to a larger audience. But one can likely ignore these trappings and have a nice time with this record. Just play “Godan Daginn” or “Festival” (I know I’ve brought up this song twice already, but it truly has great headset potential) on headphones while riding a city bus, look around you, and have your tearily bejeweled moment in time. There are worse things than an occasional loneliness-fueled vainglorious album experience. But you very well may wind up reaching for your older Sigur Rós stuff before this one.
2. Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur
3. Godan Daginn
4. Vid Spilum Endalaust
6. Sud I Eyrum
7. Ara Batur
11. All Alright