The Art of Noise from New Sigur Rós album “Kveikur”.

Sigur Ros, before  4 became 3.

Sigur Ros, before 4 became 3.

After last year’s album Valtari was released, rumours were rife that Sigur Rós were on the verge of splitting up. Sure enough their long time keyboard player left a few months later. But his departure seems to have been reasonably amicable. And barely a year later, they’re back with a new album.

Sigur Ros' new album Kveikur

Sigur Ros’ new album Kveikur

Kveikur is their 7th studio album, and the first since moving to their new label XL, after EMI and Parlophone were acquired by Universal. And it very much continues where the last one left off.

Valtari, which I reviewed earlier here, was a conscious move away from the more listener friendly tracks they’d begun producing four or five years ago. And the departure of their keyboard player has further fed into this.

This is a far more muscular affair. The rhythm section has been allowed to surface in a way that hasn’t been heard for some time. Not to produce songs, or anything that might sound like a single. But to marry the sort of grungy, post-punk feedback that sat under some of the tracks on () and Takk with Jonsi’s other worldly vocals.

As the boys for Pitchfork remarked in their review, where they gave it an approving 8.1, this is a return, if not to what they were doing before, then to what they’d been hinting at in much of that earlier work. Ethereal poise driven by industrial noise.

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New Sigur Rós Album “Valtari” Goes Back To Basics

Valtari, the new album from Sigur Rós is something of a back to basics affair. Their last two, Takk in 2005 and With A Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly in 2008 were clearly an attempt by them to move in a slightly more conventional direction by producing collections of what were more recognizably songs.

Valtari, their sixth in the studio, sees them return to the territory mapped out by 2002’s ‘( )’ and the work they’d been producing beforehand.

For some, this has proved to be something of an ever so gentle let down. The boys from Pravda at Pitchfork gave it a sulky 6.1 here, bemoaning what some see as a regression.

But Sigur Rós were never about songs. Like Brian and Roger Eno or The Penguin Café Orchestra before them, their focus has always been on conjuring up atmospheres and evoking landscapes through the tactile texturing of sounds.

Hence Jonsi’s use of Hopelandic, the hotchpotch of vowels he uses to lace so many of their “songs” with. The meaning isn’t to be found in any combination of words or thoughts, but in the feelings aroused as the sounds of the “words” combine with the layers laid down in the music.

And neither is it really fair to accuse them of failing to evolve. Yes a lot of the ambient sounds produced here are reminiscent of those earlier albums. But there’s much more of a post-punk feel to a lot of what’s gong on in the background now.

The melodies, though as ethereal as ever when they do rise, are more likely now to be offset by waves of dissonance, albethey of the gentle variety.

They’ve made a number of videos to accompany the album. This one, for track 3 “Varuo” here is a little bit underwhelming video wise. But curiously it somehow grows on you. And it’s the nearest thing on the album to the sort of conventional song from their more recent period.

The other for Fjogur Piano here, the 8th and final track is much more representative of the album musically speaking, even if video wise, it’s just a little bit busy. There’s so much going on, that nothing much happens. But you do get to see Shia Lebeouf’s impressive torso.

Though not personally responsible, he was part of the gang indicted for so brutally raping poor old Indie in the lamentable fourth outing of Indiana Jones. You can catch a glimpse of the culprits caught here on camera by the good people from South Park. And if you haven’t seen the full episode 8 from series 12, do so now. It’ll bring tears to your eyes.

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Spiritualized’s “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” Soars.

Jason Pearce formed Spiritualized in 1990, but it was their third album that sent their rock ‘n’ roll stock soaring into the stratosphere in 1997. Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space seemed to flatly contradict everything we’d been told about what happens when you live a life of heedless hedonism.

Pearce seemed to be spending his every waking hour imbibing and ingesting anything and everything he could get his hands on. The result, shockingly, was an album of majestic cohesion and soaring, unforgiving grace.

As ever though, the Gods had merely been toying with him. After two decidedly underwhelming follow-up albums, in 2005 he was felled with a particularly virulent case of pneumonia. He very nearly died and was hospitalized for the guts of a year. The next album Songs In A&E had, unsurprisingly, something of a tentative feel to it.

But a year later in ’09 he started touring Ladies And Gentlemen in its entirety, as was the fashion of the day. And the experience seems to have rejuvenated him. The result is this, their 7th studio album.

Once again Pearce has defied the odds by producing an impressively coherent album, despite being felled yet again by serous illness. This time it was his liver, and the cocktail of, irony of ironies, drugs he was prescribed meant that it took him eight months to finish mixing it. Hence the subtitle, Huh? which he explains here on Pitchfork, and the boys from Pravda gave it an impressed 8.8 here.

Sweet Heart Sweet Light is both a crystallization and a summation of everything he and Spiritualized have been working on to date. It has everything they do best, and some of the best examples of what they do.

From the opening track proper, the even-more-Reed-than-Reed Hey Jane (more V U returned with thanks) to the Dr John collaboration, I Am What I Am, which is what David Chase would have used for The Sopranos if they’d been making it today. And the whole thing is given sonic depth and poise by the Icelandic string quartet Amiina, long-time collaborators with compatriots Sigur Ros.

Unsurprisingly, it has slightly less of the grandeur that Ladies And Gentlemen boasts. And instead of the defiance and triumphant despair of the former, you’re being gently invited in here to break bread and perchance for a sup of wine.

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