Jónsi Go

[XL; 2010]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: symphonic pop, progressive indie rock
Others: Sigur Rós, Peter Gabriel, Efterklang

Befitting of its sentimentally juvenile concerns, Jónsi’s solo debut album, Go, is a gangly, hyperactive record. Although occasionally awkward and lumbering, Jónsi’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious enough to compensate for any momentary weaknesses. With Go, the sometime Sigur Rós frontman has made a broad, exotic Gulliver of a record — especially when compared to Riceboy Sleeps, his modest, Lilliputian side-project — one that is overwhelming, absorbing, and utterly transportive. The scale of the compositions, heaped so tall with strings and flutes, is so staggering at times that it often feels larger and less intimate than it is.

The faster, louder songs overwhelm the record, providing that epic impression. The marvelous pagan stomp of the percussion dominates those standout tracks, like opener “Go Do” and lead single “Boi Lilikoi.” These manic songs come across like something out of an alternative soundtrack to Where The Wild Things Are, none more so than the frantic campfire thrum of “Animal Arithmetic.” This wild rumpus generated by Jónsi and collaborator Nico Muhly is propulsive and impulsive, and reserves little space for hesitation or introspection.

Those moments when Jónsi slows the tempo slip too easily from mind, forgotten largely by the time the heavy percussion kicks back in. “Tornado” is sweeping and airy, formless but fully felt. “Sinking Friendships,” on the other hand, sounds too much like a slowed-down retread of “Go Do”; it by no means irritates or irks, but within the context of the album, the song is completely negligible. Regardless of their slightness, the slower moments provide Go some much-needed breathing room. Even the ambient outro on “Around Us,” reminiscent of the Riceboy project, provides a necessary respite from the loud, rousing clatter that makes up the majority of the album. These quiet moments allow the record to constrict and reform, so that it can swell again with impressive exuberance and vitality.

At nine songs in length, Go is short enough that its purposefully naïve milieu never becomes rote or oppressive. Whereas other artists have mined the same youthful thematic ground — The Arcade Fire, most notably — Jónsi eschews angst and melancholy entirely, focusing only on the joyous and positive aspects of childhood. But rather than dwell in the past, Jónsi seems intent on proving that youth need not be reconstructed in memory alone, that dreams and imaginations need not shrink in correlation to physical maturation, and that, most importantly, we are only as old as we feel. Go is the rare album that requires us not to think, but to feel, to let the intensity of emotion wash over until little else matters.

Links: Jónsi - XL

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