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Jonsi
Go Iain Moffat , April 7th, 2010 09:13

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Officially speaking, Go is with us because the rest of Sigur Ros are all off on differing stages of paternity leave (itself yet another indication that they're just not like other bands - how many of the bigger guitar combos of recent years can you see following suit?). Frankly, though, we can't help but wonder if there's also an element of Mr Birgisson that's leapt at the chance to put out a record that's got actual words - Hopelandish might, and often does, sound wonderful, but, ultimately, it's always going to be something of a struggle using a language that's completely made up when you might well have something to say...

Is this his Four-Calendar Cafe, then? It's an inevitable question, given that the band's capacity for cherubic impossibility has always left Frazer and co. as the primary reference point, but, while the Cocteaus' seventh offering is often seen as their shark-jump moment (not, perhaps, the fairest of assessments), that's not a reading that this is especially likely to be given. If anything, it's nearer the form that first provoked perilously sharp intakes of critical breath than either 'Med Sud...' or the Riceboy Sleeps work was. 'Boy Lilikoi' has already made it into the public domain, and is as fine a distillation of the album's most endearing qualities as you could ask for. There’s the beatific gigantism of its arrangement, all monolithic strings and testifying flutes, the cheekiness of its melodic incongruity, what with it sounding simultaneously lots like 'The Bucket' and yet precisely nothing at all like Kings Of Leon, and the sheer wonkiness of both its phrasing and pronunciation ("you growl unafraid of all colour" and "you dress trees" positively leap out, as does the curious constriction of the word "courageous".

It's also marked by a relentless, almost naive positivism that makes its presence felt consistently throughout. That's only to be expected, perhaps, given a tracklisting that includes such cheery imperatives as 'Go Do' (frenetic birdsong, luxurious passages that even evidently sneak a balalaika in, and assorted hernia-risking rangey hurdles? Cheers!) and 'Grow Till Tall' (home to reverb that renders the vocals nigh-on spectral, a piano evidently made entirely out of fireworks, and enough pounding to be borderline dance music, at least until the tremulous extended keyboard wash of the fade-out), but, adorably, it permeates elsewhere as well. Thematically, 'Tornado' might revolve around inescapable destruction, but Jonsi surrenders himself to the sheer awesomeness of the occasion and allows for the beat slippage of Madonna's 'Get Together' at its most ecstatic, and even 'Sinking Friendships', having skilfully negotiated its bizarre barbershop beginning, dives light-footedly into marvellous piano-and-clarinet cascades in a fashion that, implausibly, proves both stoic and luminous.

Plus, in an admirable display of both modernity and continuing commercial insouciance, he hasn't limited himself to sticking to English, and, predictably, the language barrier is treated with the absolute minimum of regard here. So thoroughly orchestral finale 'Hengilas' is a stately slumber that opens its arms spellbindingly skyward, 'Kolnidur' is comfortingly conversational in the face of waspish strings and volcanic restlessness, and the bilingual 'Animal Arithmetic' seems to see our protagonist canoodling al fresco while a harpsichord drives some dashing huskies past in the manner of Cornelius' majestic 'Magoo Opening'. Jonsi's message, then, would appear to be that, amid all the variety, challenge and drama, life is essentially rather beautiful and there to be enjoyed. Much like the album itself, really...

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