Record Review - 5 September 05 2001

Though it may be the perceived role of the reviewer to qualify and quantify, there are those wonderfully rare instances when the work under scrutiny defies easy description and thoughtful objectivity. These instances operate instead in that rarified realm of emotional confluence known simply as art. Such is the case with Icelandic quartet Sigur Ros' astonishingly beautiful sophomore album.

So what does it sound like? Difficult to say, but given a bit of poetic license, it could be described as a possible soundtrack for heavenly ascension. (Though not the gaudy heaven of massed choirs, pearly gates and puffy clouds, rather an alternate heaven of ruggedly beautiful, sub-arctic landscapes accented with black crushed velvet curtains and moody backlighting.) In less prosaic terms, the songs move at a majestically glacial pace, accented by gliding keyboard blips (in one memorable instance sounding not unlike sonar-depth readings) and massive rolls of guitar feedback. Melodies free-associate throughout, present but distinctly remote. Finally, there's singer Jon Birgisson's spine-tingling wail, a mixture of operatic theatrics and ghostly choirboy. The lyrics themselves are largely in Icelandic and a mixed-linguistic gibberish of Birgisson's own creation dubbed "Hopelandic." The results are a transcendent triumph of sound over sense.

Sigur Ros have created a bona fide musical experience, something to be slowly absorbed rather than dryly analyzed. This is progressive rock freed from the constraints of self-conscious pretension, conceptual skullduggery and boorish virtuosity. Despite their (relatively) tender years, the band demonstrates a remarkable ability to balance artistic reach and grasp. Unlike more celebrated, similarly artfully inclined bands, these Icelandic upstarts deliver a work of sustained depth and beauty, rather than the empty art-wank of a Kid A. This is music as creative risk-taking and spontaneous beauty, pretty rare commodities in our homogenized, pre-packaged, pop-life culture. This is music to welcome the new millennium.??