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Track-By-Track

Sigur Ros - Með Suð í Eyrum við Spilum Endalaust Track By Track Review The Quietus , June 19th, 2008 11:25

One man's cathedral of sound is another man's tedious new age whale song. Philip Wilding is firmly in the former camp and finds much to like in Gwynnie and Chris Martin's favourite band's new album.

To a lot of people, Sigur Rós are the band that provided the audio to match the fantastical images from the trailer for the BBC’s acclaimed Planet Earth series. Who couldn’t forget plants growing at an accelerated pace or ice floes tumbling into choppy, violet water as the band’s ’Hoppipolla’ rose to an all-consuming crescendo? Much like the use of ’Nessun Dorma’ to promote the 1990 World Cup, which consequently made its way into ads for British Airways too, ’Hoppipolla’ had people nudging each other on sofas nationwide (as a whale broke the surface and then crashed out of site on their TVs) to ask each other who it was. It was perfect: grand, immense and yet somehow intimate like the awe-making images reduced to fit the screen in the corner.

A self-confessed “slow motion-rock” band, the Icelanders’ fifth album proper (there’s a remix album available too) once again displays their ability make you think you’re standing on a cliff top somewhere (or possibly on the prow of a ship, though without Leonardo DiCaprio pressed up against you) staring out to sea, the wind playing through your hair and the world unfurling before you. They do immense very well, but can drop quickly away too and make do with a lean, keening vocal accompanying a tiny piano somewhere very far away; the effect is preposterously saddening. The artwork and the title (which translates roughly as, With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly) defy the downbeat notion though with the band on the cover naked, hopping a fence and tearing away from the camera in a shot which is very reminiscent of the poster for Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots; a much darker proposition all together. Elegiac in parts then and wholly uplifting (sometimes bordering on the jolly) in others, it’s a dynamic long-term fans will recognize, though it’s a much more live proposition this time around and the first album the band have recorded outside of their native Iceland, remarkably, it’s release comes just one month after the recording was completed.

'Gobbledigook' The album’s lead single and one of the most upbeat things on the album with a thrum of drums propelling the song along as a ringing guitar jumps between the speakers and a light, almost playful vocal skips over the top, putting you in mind of The Flaming Lips or The Polyphonic Spree at their most gleeful. The lyric is a mystery (given that my grasp of Icelandic is second only to my understanding of Latin), but given the song’s title it sounds as much like a flight of fancy or celebration as anything.

'Inn Mér Syngur Vitleysingur' A discordant horn plays off in a room somewhere before giving way to a tinkling piano intro that is part Guillemots and part Moody Blues (tell it and their ’Go Now’ apart and there’s a cash prize in it for you). Again, the band sounds jubilant, throwing themselves into the song and causing it to crest and fall without ever losing its blissful momentum, letting it build on a swell of strings and muted brass before a joyous final break that you imagine they had playing as they shed their clothes and started running...

'Góðan daginn' Less dense sounding than their previous material, this beautifully underplayed song (possibly with producer Flood’s influence) sounds almost completely live as acoustic guitar strings creak, fingers move across the fretboard and the song sways gently along on a hypnotic vocal that fades gently out of sight.

'Við Spilum Endalaust' Marching along on a rolling snare drum and a chorus of voices that become as much the song as the five-piece brass section that underpins their joyous noise, this is indicative of the way the band committed to stretch themselves (recording live in a variety of locations around the world, only allowing themselves a relatively short period of time this year to pull the whole album together).

'Festival' At a pulsing nine minutes plus, Festival initially belies its title until its plaintive opening builds to an elongated, near fully instrumental workout of drums and brass and a soaring, nonsensical vocal that race each other to its glorious end. As the crescendo diminishes in waves, a figure can be heard walking away whistling self-consciously, as if embarrassed by all the noise they’ve made.

'Suð Eyrum' A sparse piano phrase opens what might be the most singularly lovely song on the album, Jonsi’s husky vocal set against a sublime backdrop of muted drums, strings and a haunting horn that’s set off some way in the distance as if calling someone home. Describing it as affecting doesn’t even come close.

'ára Bátur' Willfully ambitious (and we can probably blame/thank Youth for that), this was recorded live in one take with the London Sinfonietta and the London Oratory Boy’s Choir, culminating in a total of 90 people playing at the same time for the best part of nine minutes. Though the facts matter little in the face of this astonishingly grand piece of work, it’s mournful, dramatic, stupefyingly beautiful and all without a moment wasted.

'Illgresi' As if to offset the (very welcome) pomp of the previous track, this is little more than Jonsi’s vocal, an acoustic guitar and the lingering shadows cast by a haunting violin and the occasional wash of a string section. It is as powerful in its own way as anything else on the album.

'Fljótavk' As the album drifts away (it’s almost the antithesis of how it begins), this sets the tone for the beginning of the end, plaintive in tone and floating gently on a piano and the playing of the string-quartet group, Amiina. The vocal is high and lonely and as beautiful as it may be, it’s a downbeat affair.

'Straumnes' Which may or may not translate as ’segue’ as that’s what this brief instrumental is, leading us to the album’s ultimate track.

'All Alright' Which showcase the band’s first ever English lyric (we can only assume Youth’s influence was even more far reaching than any of us could have ever imagined) and probably the singularly most understated song on the album. It’s a lingering six minutes of French horn, piano and Jonsi’s almost dusky vocal swirling around deep in the mix. It’s the polar opposite of their reverb-drenched past and rather a strange and contemplative way to leave things. It hardly diminishes from the overall beauty and grace of the album though.

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