Sigur Rós – Aegytis Byrjun

Sigur Rós
Aegytis Byrjun

Inspiration has recently become a lacking institution in rock music. For at least the past decade (and arguments could be made for further backtracking), rock music has both failed to be inspired and failed to inspire. Though there are obvious exceptions, gone are the days when the Beatles could find inspiration anywhere and the Clash changed the lives of all who listened. Now though, inspiration has been minimized. Angst-rockers like Korn attempt to draw from teenage pain (and perhaps mine teenage wallets), and superb songwriters like the Foo Fighters fail to muster up much devotion. Even indie-rock, rock’s antithesis, often fails to draw inspiration from its increasingly sterile waters. Fortunately, Sigur-Ros have come to save the world. If not, they’ll at least make rock music look stupid trying. [we regret the lack of appropriate accents and such on the band, album and song titles, but Windows is a fickle thing. – ed.]
First let’s get a couple of things straight. Sigur Ros is from Iceland, land of Bjork, and they have already garnered much support there. Second, the band sings in their native language, and, subsequently, prints all of their liner notes in that same, indecipherable prose. The song titles, lyrics, and musician’s names are all unreadable, and I will simply do my best to transcribe them here (though I regret not being able to read the artist’s names or what they played on the album, there isn’t a lot I can do). Now, to the music.
Wow. Wow again. Oh hell, one more time. Wow. Sigur Ros create symphonic pieces of music (the term “song” hardly applies to this band…that’s how far removed they are from rock music) that they claim are inspired not by other artists, but by the vast, gorgeous landscapes of their homeland. Sigur Ros have found a unique inspiration, and with it they have crafted one of the most daring albums I’ve ever heard talked about in a pop format (it should be noted that the band has scored multiple hits off of this album in their homeland – there is hope!). The songs are driven by strings, keyboards, and atmospheres rather than by guitars and lyrics. When the voice comes in, it’s presented as simply another instrument, rather than a means of communication. The lyrics mean little (even if you could understand them) – the emotions of the songs transcend lingual barriers.
“Svefn-G-Englar” is a moonlit whale-song that soars and floats in the night sky. The singer’s voice hardly sounds human, but the song is still gorgeous. “Flugufrelsarinn” relies heavily on the melody but not some stupid pop-hook. The operatic melodies on this album (which come from both the voice and the instruments) move like glaciers – slowly cutting into your mind, entrenching themselves there until they dissolve and remain like crystal clear lakes in the wilderness. This is powerful stuff.
“Vidrar vel til loftarasa” hypnotizes you with gorgeous keyboards before that voice comes in again and lifts the song heavenward. “Hjartad hamast” builds on a jazz bassline and whining harmonicas. Seven minutes later the song burns like a forest fire as the bass fades out. The most captivating track is “Staraflur.” The song opens with heavy, weeping strings, and a piano dances on top like a firefly. Cue the gorgeous voice (let me take this time to say that Iceland’s language rivals any language I’ve heard as far as sonic texture is concerned). Three minutes in, the voice is isolated, with only an acoustic guitar strumming heavily behind it. The song stops for a brief moment before the drums rush in and carry the song toward the horizon. Your heartbeat returns, and the most beautiful string section I’ve ever heard cries heavily behind piercing horns. Stunning, to say the least.
When all is said and done, this is some of the most inspiring music I’ve ever heard. The melodies and instrumentals are so perfect, so surreal that it hardly seems four men could have created this. This music sounds as if it’s centuries old – like these songs have been passed on from generation to generation. The album strays dangerously close to both classical and native music. But it doesn’t matter, simply because this music stands alone. You almost start to think that Sigur Ros have the right idea, that maybe even the best bands playing today are still stuck in the past. Simultaneously sounding centuries old and futuristic, Sigur Ros have managed to both find inspiration and inspire.