Sigur Ros – Kveikur (XL)

Sigur Ros – Kveikur (XL)

Ever since the world quite rightly fell in love with 2000’s beautiful Agaetis Byrjun, there’s been a fascinating conflict at the heart of Sigur Ros. Sometimes, as on best-selling album Takk, it’s the slightly populist, euphoric, dream-pop side that wins out; sometimes it’s the experimental post-rock side ( (), Valtari); sometimes both sides cancel each other out and nobody wins (Med Sud…)

With Kveikur, there’s no doubt which side of Sigur Ros is in charge. After 2012’s abstract, fragile Valtari, Kveikur is a bold, brazen, confident return, the sound of the band’s long-underemployed rhythm section staging a coup and driving a beautifully-produced sound seemingly tailor made for filling the arenas and stadiums this unexpectedly massive band now call home.

Previews of Kveikur had many people speculating that this was the band’s “dark” album, but those pre-release songs- Brennistein and the title track – were, as we will see, something of a misdirect. Both are heavy, oppressive and, yes, glacial, and Brennistein in particular, with its crashing industrial beats, distorted bass, bursts of electronic noise and an unusually urgent, panicked vocal from Jonsi, is one of the most surprising and brilliant things they’ve ever done. But this heavier sound doesn’t dominate Kveikur to the extent that many of us thought/hoped/feared (delete as appropriate) it might.

For Kveikur is an album of considerable beauty and melody, often with something of a smile on its face. Hrafntinna does the old Sigur Ros trick of making incomprehensible (to non-Icelandic speakers, ie the majority of listeners) lyrics sound impossibly moving when combined with surging strings and tinkling bells. Isjaki is simply gorgeous, as close as they’ve come since the once ubiquitous Hoppipolla to a pure pop song, and nature documentary producers will already be nailing down the rights to the equally lovely Stormur. This trilogy of grin-inducing, blissed-out avant-pop is completed by the amazing Rafstraumur, which builds, drops, and builds again into a climax of almost overwhelming euphoria, a million miles away from the terror of Brennistein.

There is a little more shade on Kveikur to balance out the light however. The astonishing Yfirbord, with its glitchy electronic beats and breathy vocals surging to a coda of crashing drums, white noise and backwards vocals, is arguably the album’s crowning achievement; while Blapradur’s pounding rhythms and sudden silences wouldn’t sound out of place on Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch; and the closing Var, menacing strings circling a stark, simple and beautiful piano melody, takes us back to Valtari territory.

After which, we are left with little option but to hit play again, and lose ourselves once more in yet another dense, diverse, painstakingly crafted work of genius from a band at the peak of their remarkable powers.

[Rating:4.5]

http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/

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