Sigur Rós-Ágætis byrjun [Finely Tuned]
Founded in 1994 by Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson, Georg “Goggi” Hólm, and Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson, Sigur Rós is an Icelandic post-rock band from Reykjavik. The band is currently a trio consisting of Birgisson, Hólm, and Orri Páll Dýrason, who joined in 1999. The words ‘Sigur’ and ‘Rós’, in Icelandic, mean ‘Victory’ and ‘Rose’ respectively. Although the phrase ‘Victory Rose’ doesn’t add up grammatically, the band’s name is, in fact, a wordplay on Jónsi’s then-infant sister, Sigurros.
The band soon shot to fame because of Jónsi’s soothing falsetto vocals and, more importantly, the incorporation of nuances of post, progressive, and ambient rock into their music. Their songs are an amalgamation of obscure musical instruments, notwithstanding the traditional piano, flute, tremolo, and the occasional violin and cello. They also received critical acclaim for integrating bowed guitar into their music, an earmark that set them apart from other artists in Iceland as well.
Their second album, Ágætis byrjun (A Good Beginning), was released mid-1999. This was the last album that saw the works of their drummer, Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson, who left soon after the album’s release. Calm, soothing, and with a voice like none other, Jónsi’s unparalleled vocals set a hypnotic mood for the entire album, with Sigur Rós dexterously managing to incorporate vocals as a standout instrument by themselves. With this album, the band proved to the world of music that stuff can be two things- a violin bow can double as a guitar pick!
While most of the songs on the album are written in Icelandic, ‘Olsen-Olsen’ is an exception. The song is exclusively written in ‘Vonlenksa’ or ‘Hopelandish’, a gibberish language often used by Jónsi, which lacks syntax, grammar, and even meaning. One of the first few tracks on the album, ‘Svefn-g-englar’ (Icelandic for ‘Sleepwalking Angels’), is also one of their most celebrated songs. It has made its way to a copious number of soundtracks, including the 2001 Tom Cruise hit, ‘Vanilla Sky’. ‘’Starálfur’ or ‘Staring Elf’ has the phenomenal earmark of palindromic strings- they are the same backward and forwards.
The inspiration for their song ‘Ný batterí’ (Icelandic for ‘New Batteries’) came from a bent cymbal that the band found lying on a street in downtown Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital city. They were amused by the sounds arising from it, and composed the song from scratch with the wounded instrument in mind. Their music video for the song ‘Viðrar vel til loftárása’, spawned a great deal of controversy in the media. The song’s title is a direct reference to a quote from Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, a reporter at Iceland’s national broadcasting company, who described the weather at a warzone as “good weather for airstrikes”.
Listening to this album feels like plunging into an intergalactic trance- the album cover of an alien fetus is perhaps the best way to describe it. Sigur Rós’ melodies remain a testament to the fact that music can transcend time, space, language, and any other barriers of communication. At times, however, their music does tend to get passive and predictable. Despite this, they’ve distinguished themselves as pioneers in creative music. With ethereal tunes and phenomenal live performances, they have kept their unwavering fan base pleasantly satisfied. They have proved, time and again, that music is not always meant to be understood and translated, but rather to be felt by the soul.
Tracks to listen to: Svefn-g-englar, Olsen Olsen, Ágætis byrjun