Just as speed garage disciples make pilgrimages to Aiya Napa to sample their particular preferred sonic tipple, then perhaps space-rock aficionadoes might be pointed in the direction of Iceland. For, despite the nebulous, challenging, resolutely un-commercial noises they create, topping both the singles and albums charts at home comes easy to Reykjavik’s Sigur Rss.
Dreamy beyond belief, this, Sigur Rss‘s second album (the title, roughly translated, means ‘A New Beginning’), explores further the band’s predeliction for non-narrative beauty. Waves of unidentifiable noise, dulcet vibraphone pulses and singer/guitarist Jonsi‘s ethereal singing (more like some ghostly instrument than any conventional vocal, borne out by Jonsi‘s fictional ‘language’, Hopelandish, which he often sings in) mesh to create an elegant, grand music that’s equally ambient and epic.
s On first listen, the album recalls many previous masters of narcotic rock reverie. The serrated guitar blushes of ‘Svefn-G-Englar’ echo seminal tripped-out noiseniks Bardo Pond; while ‘Staralfur’, with its sighing strings and featherlight psychedelia, captures the bilious beauty of Mercury Rev, both pre and circa ‘Deserter’s Songs’. Elsewhere, Sigur Rss‘ intuitive sense of dynamic suggests kindred spirits in Mogwai, as the drone-drama of ‘Hjartad Hamast’ strings along the foreboding bombast of late Spiritualized.
But Sigur Rss‘ music doesn’t feel as if it is composed to be the soundtrack to furtive stude drug-dalliances. There’s a profundity, a palpable vastness to their songs, and a hushed reverence too. This feels like church music, eschewing the sonic cathedrals of shoegazing infamy in favour of music that feels as awesome, as extravagantly bejewelled as, say, the Sacre Coeur. And as impressive as this is, it also renders ‘Agaetis Byrjun’ somewhat impenetrable and aloof. You are meant to admire this record, but there’s precious little within its immense grooves that feels [I]human[/I], nothing to actually [I]love[/I].
But this shouldn’t overshadow the breath-taking conceit, the blissful music of this album. Although unlikely to score them the kind of mainstream acclaim they’re accustomed to, ‘Agaetis Byrjun’ will certainly win Sigur Rss some dedicated disciples.