Hauntingly beautiful. They’re the words that come to mind when your ears first fall upon the sound of Sigur Rós, and they’re the words you’ll think of after 1000 listens. They really don’t sound like anything else you’ve ever heard, and even though that’s what everyone says about every band ever, in this case it really is true. You’ll just have to believe us. Some of that may be down to the fact that vocalist and guitarist Jón Birgisson often plays his guitar with a ‘cello bow of course, but you’ll swear that you didn’t think a voice, guitar, drums, keyboard and bass (and ‘cello bow) could make these sounds. And if they could, why didn’t someone do it sooner?
In actual fact, Takk is the 5th studio album from this Icelandic quartet. As well as Birgisson, there’s also Kjartan Sveinsson (keyboards), Orri Páll Dýrason and Georg Holm (bass). The line-up has changed since 1999s’ Ágætis Byrjun, which is where this reviewer first became familiar with them. That album still gets fairly regular plays to this day, so anything new they release is always cause for anticipation.
And incredibly, considering just how good they were before, Takk may well mark their finest work to date. A masterpiece, even. There, I said it. Why so? Well, from start to finish it’s highly likely you’ll be utterly enthralled. Much of their older material is full of brilliance, but is peppered with weaker moments that cause the albums to lose focus and momentum in places. Takk has none of those problems, instead managing to majestically unfurl through its eleven tracks, resulting in a considerably higher goosebump-quotient. Alright, so some of those goosebumps might be down to the bright but wintry sound they manage to convey, like sunlight gliterring on ice, but it’s stunning nonetheless.
Even amongst this inspiring collection, there are standout tracks, like Hoppipolla, a rousing hymn with a rising piano arpeggio at its centre, and Saeglopur, which positively thunders along once it gets going. Part of the fascination with Sigur Rós undoubtedly comes down to Jón Birgisson’s vocals. It’s pretty tricky to describe, but if cats could sing, then this is how they might sound. Or something. Anyhow, there’s a curious balance between a sense of distress and warmth at the same moment, and along with the often high registers, it creates a unique effect that will stay with you. You’re never going to confuse them with anyone else, even for a split second.
But descriptions are irrelevant. Perhaps Takk is more mainstream in some ways than their older works, with the melodies and chord patterns just a shade more predictable. Perhaps established fans may wish they could stay more obscure, as established fans always do. Their loss, however, is everyone elses gain. If ‘hauntingly’ and ‘beautiful’ are two words you don’t mind associating together when it comes to music, then prepare to fall for Sigur Rós. And as summer well and truly comes to an end, it can almost make you look forward to winter. Wrap your ears up warm in some headphones.
Record Label: EMI
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