Sigur Rós Ágætis Byrjun

[Fat Cat; 2001]

Styles: experimental rock, post-rock, space rock, dream pop, space rock
Others: Radiohead, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mum

Okay, I admit it. I've jumped on the bandwagon. Chances are, by now you have heard at least something about the Icelandic band Sigur Rós ("Victory Róse"). Many proclaim Sigur Rós to be the first major threat of the 21st Century or hail them as the future of music. While these claims may seem a bit overdramatic to the Sigur Rós virgin, there is no doubt in my mind that they are the most capable of quartets in achieving this feat.

The great thing about Sigur Rós is that they make every note in every section count. The songs on Ágætis Byrjun ("An Alright Start") do not rely on sudden tempo changes or dramatic shifts in chords to keep the listener's attention, but focuses on length and the monotonous chord progressions. At first it may seem that the songs lack any direction, but after repeated listens you will discover modest climaxes and subtle mood changes within the infrastructure of the drawn out music. Out of the 10 songs, 8 of them are over 6 minutes long, and most of them are even longer. The album fades in with multiple harmonized voices, floating above reversed music. The short intro slowly morphs into a 10-minute masterpiece, "Svefn-G-Englar", which mainly coasts on the same chord progression, with the exception of a 15 second bridge. Elsewhere on the album, "Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása" fades in with its piano driven melody and overflowing string section, melting every ounce of evil in your body.

A vital element in Sigur Rós' arsenal derives from lead vocalist Jon Thor Birgisson. His voice proves to be one of the most incredibly sincere and honest voices in contemporary music, and propels the songs to an almost theatric level. Over his falsetto-laden voice and his delay-heavy guitar work, piles of instruments are precisely layered on one another, preparing a cake of epic proportions -- not to mention the outstanding production of the album that underscores the beauty of the album.

The album's lyrics end in the title track: við tölum saman á ný /en hljóðið var ekki gott / við vorum sammála um &Thorn;að / sammála um flesta hluti / við munum gera betur næst / &Thorn;etta er ágætis byrjun." Which roughly translates to: "We sit down excited / listen to ourselves play in rhythm to the music / but the sound wasn't good / we were all in agreement / we will do better next time / this is a good beginning"; it's this humility that may be the scariest part, yet.

Ágætis Byrjun  is one of the most lush and beautiful records I have ever heard. The pure emotion and cinematic beauty of each reverb-drenched song is breathtaking, to say the least.  You've heard it once, you've heard it twice: the greatest of albums require time before they fully reveal themselves. But never has this adage seemed more true. It's not that the songs are "difficult" by any means; in fact, the songs at first seem rather easy listening and conventional, but the album flows so well that distinguishing between the songs proves to be the crux. And the fact that lead singer/guitarist Jon Thor Birgisson alternates his language between Icelandic and his own language, dubbed "Hopelandic", doesn't help matters much. But don't fret; if you take the time to acquaint yourself with the album -- I promise, the songs will eventually reveal their luminous core.

Ágætis Byrjun is an album for the heart and soul -- an album for your life. Now who's being overdramatic?

1. Intro
2. Svefn-G-Englar (Sleepwalkers)
3. Staralfur (Staring Elf)
4. Flugufrelsarinn (Fly Freer)
5. Ny Batteri (New Batteries)
6. Hjartao Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm) (The Heart Pounds (Boom Boom Boom)
7. Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása (Good Weather for Airstrikes)
8. Olsen Olsen (Hopelandic)
9. Agaetis Byrjun (An Alright Start)
10. Avalon