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Sigur Rós - Von

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Artist: Sigur Rós

Album: Von

Label: One Little Indian

Review date: Nov. 23, 2004

When Sigur Rós’ debut album was released in Iceland, it failed to cause much of a critical flutter in the other 190 (give or take) countries in the world, but, the worldwide release of the band’s follow-up, Ágætis Byrjun was accompanied by enough hype to more than make up for the relative quiet that surrounded Von. Even after the eruption in popularity, Sigur Rós seemed content to allow Von to remain an Icelandic-only release, fodder for file-sharers and completists. Quiet on the recording front since 2003’s ( ), Sigur Rós continue to work on a fourth album, and while a collaboration with Radiohead (accompanying a Merce Cunningham dance piece no less) may have satisfied some of the quartet’s more rabid fans, it perhaps seemed a suitable time for Von to be rather quietly ushered into American availability.

The starkly accented child’s face that graces the cover of Von is more appropriate now that it was at the time of the album’s original 1997 release. As the music unfolds, listeners are granted the chance to experience the music of a younger Sigur Rós, a band who, at that point, were still very much in development, whose music had not yet fully crystallized in the celestial form it currently inhabits. Von is, in a sense, an ultrasound view of the unborn Sigur Rós - it’s almost fetal, an abstracted and vague representation of what would come later. Song fragments float in a sea of ambient texturing, though discernable themes and rhythms do emerge and coalesce into more concrete song structures. “Sigur Rós,” which begins the disc, and “Dogun,” which follows it, may be a daunting opening for some, but very quickly, song forms become more and more frequent, and, by the time the album’s finished, Von doesn’t seem nearly as impenetrable as it may have in the beginning.

Like a toddler grappling with the vast, confusing lexicon that is spoken language, the 1997 incarnation of Sigur Rós sometimes seems more comfortable mixing indiscriminately abstract sounds than constructed phrases. The band’s new age take on melodic post-rock, considered too cuddly or precious for some, has a slightly harder edge at times in this earlier phase, and is more likely to move from the realm of the beautifully placid into something more sinister, a quality that might be advantageous for the modern version of the band to embrace. “Myrkur,” with a pronounced acoustic guitar and happy jangle, features a sound better left behind, however, as it deadens the more ethereal side of the band, a trait that’s become their strength.

This Icelandic quartet have always been happy to have their heads in the clouds, and Von is an album that documents their ascent. At times, it’s anchored too solidly to the earth, at others, it flies too high, and the band drifts too lazily in lightheaded bliss, but there are moments in which Sigur Rós expertly meld layers of ambient improvisation with their more streamlined material.

By Adam Strohm

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