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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