Sigur Rós Valtari

[XL Recordings; 2012]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: recessional, processional
Others: Jónsi & Alex, Anne Carson, David Graeber


01. After breathing loses its novelty and life becomes difficult, we relearn how to use our lungs. Deep breathing relieves the body’s anxiety. Quick, short breaths heighten it. In the dust and shit of recession-city, our life and death intertwine: breathe in empty air, breathe out dirty air — but keep breathing. The song, like the singer, breathes in and out, slowly then quickly, inhales the songparts, they settle in the lungs, and then exhales a disoriented bass tone, a buried choir, a false crescendo.

02. Anne Carson on Iceland: “Vast empty silent. Kinds of light unlike any other. Weather changing every ten minutes.”

03. “Iceland as financial terrorist. Iceland as fourth-world country. Iceland as Russia’s toady. Iceland as a financial idiot playing with nuclear weapons and getting radiation burns. To these one might add one more characterization that surfaced in the press just as Iceland was well under water: the ever-so-embarrassing detail that a majority of Icelanders reportedly ‘[did not] deny the existence of elves’ and that consequently major construction projects had to wait for certification that no elves would be harmed. Iceland as elf-believers. It seemed that — in the case of Iceland’s recent historical catastrophe, anyway — the first time for Iceland was both tragedy and farce.”

04. “We started to record something, but then we chucked it all away. So I think we are going to have to start it all again.” The first half of Valtari, the sixth album by Sigur Rós, is a negotiation with the remnants of the non-album: there remains something, in pieces, of Sigur Rós throughout the first four songs. But familiarity is subsumed in a wobbly piano, a broken jewelry box, a false start, and a curt end. This isn’t the easy melancholy of ( ); it’s something less predictable, something adrift and notably sadder. I hear Sigur Rós attempting to bring pieces back together, but very little resolves in the middle of a crisis. Pieces remain pieces.

05. It was difficult to gauge the trajectory of Sigur Rós following disappointing albums from both Jónsi (Go) and Sigur Rós (Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust) between 2008 and 2010. It was poppy and cheap. It was the worst of what could’ve come after Takk. In the background, however, something else was happening. Kjatan Sveisson’s “Credo” formally debuted alongside his collaboration with Anne Carson, “Cage a Swallow Cant You…,” on November 15, 2011 in New York City. But listen to both now, “Credo” and “Dauðalogn”: do you hear it?

06. (i) “There is cohesive guilt, because only so much anger can be directed at the bankers,” he said. “It’s like looking in the mirror and asking ‘did I do that’? It comes back to haunt us.” (ii) “Did Icelanders have an identity crisis? Yes…”

07. (i) Steamroll: to bring to a specific state by overwhelming force or pressure. (ii) “The political debate in Iceland has gotten horribly stale and repetitive. In some places Iceland is held up as being a model of how to survive an economic crisis and rebuild society. For most Icelanders this seems totally wrong. Some politicians, including our President, like to flaunt this view when they go abroad, but this is definitely not the feeling in Iceland.” (iii) “There was one other form of humiliation laid over the bad figures and the bad press afflicting Iceland: a spike in tourism, the ironic upside of having one’s currency devalued so viciously. Tourist shilling is a special form of humiliation, one that compresses economic necessity and local hospitality customs with the need to ‘perform’ one’s self and one’s identity for the entertainment and edification of eager outsiders.” (iv) “Just try to ignore the financial situation and try to enjoy you holiday!” (v) “The tourists are the worst thing about Iceland’s economic collapse, that there have never been more, due to the failed Króna, and that these tourists are the only people that bother [Sigur Rós] for autographs.”

08. Recovery eventually comes — but what does it come to? We begin with 23 seconds of silence. Four pianos and strings. Is the opposite of recession expansion? Or is it trust? The restrained movement of Valtari ends here, in cautious von.

Links: Sigur Rós - XL Recordings

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