FAT CAT RECORDS
BY BRET MILLER
You may have heard them if you've listened to Morning Becomes Eclectic on 89.9 KCRW any day for the last four months, they've sold out the John Anson Ford Ampitheater without commercial radio play and up until now the CD pressing was mainly sold out in the United States. They will play this years Coachella Festival in Indio, California along with Iggy Pop, Janes Addiction, Roni Size, The Orb and others. The reason that all this is happening for the best-selling Icelandic band is simple: great band, small label.
Agaetis Byrjun (A New Beginning) is Sigur Ros' latest release and is possibly one of the most beautiful and intriguing albums you're likely to hear for a long time to come. Imagine the land where the music was created: an island on the Arctic Circle halfway between Northern Europe and North America. A land part volcano, part glacial ice. Norse families sought political refuge on the island around the time of the birth of Christ and they have retained the old Norse language as well.
Sigur Ros reflect the dangerous beauty of their home throughout their album. Agaetis Byrjun opens with (good luck on the song pronunciations) Svefn g-englar, lulling you into a pleasant dreamscape of mellow organs, guitar tones and Thor Birgisson's falsetto wails, building to a higher level and fading out to a thumping heartbeat pulse. Staralfur follows, filled with strings and Birgisson's microphone-in-mouth feminine vocals, then coming to a halt, with acoustic guitar. The song picks up again with the sound of a train on tracks, scratchy vocals and more achingly lovely strings. Staralfur then ends with the sound of roaring winds. The track getting the most airplay on KCRW is Flugufrelsarinn bringing you closer to heaven with lush guitar textures, organ, brushed drums and Birgisson's glorious singing. Ny Batteri begins with forlorn horns bringing to mind a light- house horn, seguing into fiery guitar tones and hushed vocals that build almost imperceptively, until harsh percussion breaks the chill and Sigur Ros actually become a rock band (albeit one with wailing horns and celestial vocals). Hjartao Hamast (bamm bamm bamm kicks off with a jazzy rhodes organ and harmonica that get ran over by distorted guitar textures and a high-pitched violin which gives way to vocals that are so close that you hear every breath. The song then becomes an exhultation to the gods before returning to the jazzy rythms. closes with an ultra staticky guitar. Then silence, a distant wail of metal-on-metal, heartwarming yet melancholic piano, string and slide guitar of Vioar Vel Tl L'oftarasa kisses your ears. Ascension almost complete. Olsen Olsen places angelic vocals over an up-front bass, sounding like the Cure or Peter Hook of New Order, while horns, flute and a loud piano bring in the orchestral strings and chorus to honor a returning hero or maybe the dawning of a new day sun. Fingers sliding on acoustic guitar strings, tapping on cymbals and the intake of breath add an intimate dimension to the title song, a lullaby of otherworldly grace. Avalon closes , giving the impression of long arctic nights huddled close to the hearth fire while the wind blows outside, hypnotizing you into a winter slumber.
The fact that Sigur Ros' lyrics are sung in a mixture of Icelandic and a glossalalia that the band call "Hopelandic" only adds to the mystery of the songs. They could be singing of battling Norse warriors and maidens in distress, heartache and bloodshed all in a harsh and unforgiving land, or they could be singing about more mundane present day endeavors, only the band knows for sure. Agaetis Byrjun is cold climes, fiery mountain tops and frigid beaches. It is also possibly the answer to your prayers. Sigur Ros may not have set out to become the next Verve but not since that band's seminal A Storm In Heaven has there been this powerful a display of graceful guitar textures, ambient soundscapes and such an original voice in the last ten years. Look out for this album, it just might bring you closer to your own private paradise.