A comparative review of two albums, hope that’s okay…
I know I’m not establishing my indie credentials well by writing my first review on Sigur Ros—-especially on their latest, and some would argue most commercial, album. But since I received this album in December I’ve been listening to it more and more as the months draw on. I wanted to write a little essay/review and this seemed like a good forum. Plenty of people disparage Sigur Ros but I will unabashedly stand by them. In fact, I’ve listened to many “post-rock” bands (GSYBE, Do Make Say Think, Explosions in the sky, Mogwai, etc.) since it’s a genre that always seems good in theory but unfortunately not often in practice, and SR is the only one in my opinion worth any serious attention.
In the years after its release I wanted to claim that ( ) was SR’s masterpiece, and I built up arguments to that effect. The first four tracks were the SR we’d come to expect from Agaetis Byrjun and then Track 8 brought the album to the most thrilling, screeching climax I’d heard in a long time. Tracks 5-7 were problematic, as they were all rather similar in tone, tempo, mood, etc. On a practical level, the album really drags at this point, but I reasoned that Track 8 would not be nearly so powerful a conclusion had we not been lulled to sleep for so long by the previous three songs. So even though the material was somewhat weaker, it was necessary for the overall whole. SR was creating a desire construct—-making the listener long for the music to go somewhere, for something to happen. And it doesn’t. Our desire is suspended... and... suspended... until the very end, making the conclusion all the more fulfilling.
So on first hearing Takk… I found myself initially suspicious of it. While ( ) had taken half its length to arrive at one earth-shattering climax, Takk… shoots off similar climaxes in virtually every song. Whether it feels like a cathartic climax (cc) or a tender loving lament climax (tllc), or a celebration-of-all-the-joys-and-sorrows-o
f-the-world climax (coatjasotwc), SR had them in abundance. But after ( ) I had to wonder if these were truly earned. They worked like hell to get to that final climax in ( ), if they can throw them in all over the place in Takk… are they as meaningful as SR wants you to believe? I had the image of the Icelanders sitting in the studio saying, “Okay, throw in a tllc here, and how about a coatjasotwc over there... hey, toss me a fuckin beer man, I’m not payin you to sit on your ass.”
But in the end, it’s partly just how composers work. All compositions are contrived to some degree and it made me look back at ( ) with a more critical eye. I realize that I’m not filled with desire during Tracks 5-7. Perhaps I am during track 5 and half of track 6. But by track 7, I’m daydreaming, quite frankly. I’ve slipped from active to passive listening, not even aware there is music on. In the end, I probably convinced myself that I should like the album and that the album is a masterpiece when in fact I was overlooking what is, to me, a very problematic section.
To some degree I regard ( ) as a failure—though that is not necessarily an awful thing. When you have very interesting artists (and I consider SR to be high caliber artists in the popular music world), their failures can sometimes be even more interesting than their successes (i.e. no one is going to fail at something safe or easy, unless it’s Ashlee Simpson with the act of singing). I think on the second half of that album Sigur Ros wanted to create a barren, lifeless nearly uninhabitable musical space. In a way, they succeeded too well—-at which point the practical musical results don’t work.
After multiple listenings of Takk… I began to make peace with it and it soon began to ascend in my mind to the position of SR’s best album thus far. I was afraid at first of being lured in by all the emotional explosions in it, because they seemed like they might be false or contrived. But I finally surrendered myself to the experience of it, and allowed it to work its magic on me. It has convinced me that it’s not false, and even if it’s contrived, what does it matter? It’s sonic and emotional pleasure, pure and simple.
Sigur Ros: Takk...
Sigur Ros: ( )