Sigur Ros - "Gobbledigook" (Med Sud i Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust)
A lot of the chatter surrounding the release of Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust suggests that Sigur Rós are turning over a new leaf. The band recorded outside of Iceland for the first time, in New York and London and Havana. The album, their fifth, was produced by Flood, enabler to such post-grunge megalomaniacs as Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor. It was written and laid to tape in about five months, the point being to infuse a certain immediacy into the band’s traditionally glacial approach to … well, everything.
Don’t be fooled. Sigur Rós is the same band you have found enchanting, cloying, or irrelevant since the turn of the century. They remain patient to a fault, oozing with indecipherable sympathy, devoted to some chilly, undefined mysticism. They still can’t, or won’t, write an engaging song to save their lives; they prefer to build sand castles, exquisite in points and passageways but never quite structurally sustainable. Með Suð is the spring that follows the bleak winter of ( ) and the slow thaw of Takk…. Thanks largely to well-appointed brass and string additions, the cavernous spaces in which the band has always worked are lined with flourishing, resplendent detail. Geography changes a lot slower than seasons, though.
What Sigur Rós end up proving about immediacy is that they have little use for it. Með Suð is frontloaded with songs that get to the point fairly quickly – meter-hopping lead single “Gobbledigook,” and triumphal pop twins “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” and “Við spilum endalaust” – but the destination is never much of a surprise. Leaden pacing wins out anyway: both the record’s nine-minute-plus centerpieces, “Festival” and “Ára bátur,” divide neatly between expendable first halves and gorgeous, revelatory conclusions. The lovely late-album interlude “Straumnes” is free of excess, of sagging momentum or leftover potential, but that’s because at two minutes it doesn’t have time to wander off in search of the grandiose.
The strangest thing about Sigur Rós is where they fit among bands working in parallel directions, or rather where they don’t. They’re hardly alone in favoring dreamy epics that err on the side of too spacious, or in branching out in terms of form rather than content, yet some persistent otherworldliness keeps them answerable only to themselves. (The most otherworldly thing that has not changed is Jónsi Birgisson’s voice; even when he sings in English, as he does on the abjectly boring closer “All Alright,” he does so with the unintelligible earth-mother coo of someone who has invented a language called Hopelandic.) At its pop-courting extremes, Með Suð feels designed to integrate Sigur Rós into the earthly world, to frame them as a band who take risks and trace evolutionary arcs like any other. Still, the most distinctive thing about it is the idea of its source, the nebulous spirit hovering above the peaks and valleys of its own remote continent. Four naked asses on the cover isn’t going to change that overnight, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s probably for the best.