Thursday, November 21, 2002
Occasionally, a band emerges seemingly oblivious to current music trends and unintentionally challenges the conventions of modern music. As if from thin air, the Icelandic quartet Sigur Ros has appeared, weaving exquisite melodies and instrumentals of breathtaking originality.
Landing firmly with an immediate and profound emotional impact on their second album-titled with a set of parentheses-band members Jon Por "Jonsi" Birgisson (vocals and guitars), Georg Holm (bass), Agust Ovar Gunnarsson (drums) and Kjartan Sveinsson (keyboards) aren''t necessarily looking to be "the next big thing." Yet fame is trailing closely behind them after the success of their previous album, Agoetis Byrjun. That album plunged them into the limelight after they signed to Fatcat Records, gaining mass media exposure after putting a single, "Svefn-G-Englar," the Vanilla Sky soundtrack, touring Europe with Radiohead, and having Thom Yorke cite the band as an inspiration for Radiohead''s new Insomniac.
While the world observes the young Icelandic musicians rise to fame, Sigur Ros (translated as "Victory Rose") turns inward. Lost in their haunting atmospherics, somewhere inside us we find a deep urge to do the same.
Full of empty skies and wide, open spaces, Iceland''s unique geography creates an environment perfect for the development of Sigur Ros''s distinctive sound. Exuding such otherness, the quartet forges melodies that are rapturous and romantic, dramatic and alien, innocent and bittersweet.
While many European bands tend to record their albums with English vocals to have wider appeal internationally, Sigur Ros disregards lyrics altogether. For Sigur Ros literal comprehension is unimportant; it''s all about the melody and the emotions that are evoked from it. (Birgisson''s ambiguously gendered vocals are in a gibberish language only he can understand called "Hopelandic.")
The lack of interpretability is intentional. Shrouded in mystery, the non-lyrics create a direct emotional connection. Derived from this intention, Sigur Ros''s symphonic masterpieces do more than evoke deep introspection. They renew my faith that rock music can produce deep significance.
The Paul Simon Collection-On My Way, Don''t Know Where I''m Going
Paul Simon merged Brill Building tunesmanship, pre-hippie folk-rock and New York cool-ironic into a style that is not only like no other, it''s a style that can''t even be imitated. Billy Joel, Carole King and Suzanne Vega (among many others) have taken bits and pieces of the basic puzzle, but in the end, Simon is the master of this hybrid style. In this, he is the middle ground between the other two great New York songwriters of the ''60s, Bob Dylan (who emigrated from Minnesota, of course) and Lou Reed.
This solo career retro is hit-heavy, naturally, but it reveals a few interesting twists, namely, that his overlooked musics, be they the title cut from Hearts and Bones, or "Late in the Evening" or the non-Graceland African-based cuts that end Disc One, is actually more complex and satisfying than his radio smashes. There is also a live Disc Two which is the singer remaking his Simon and Garfunkel hits with various back-up bands. Unnecessary.
The amazing thing about this musician is that the older he gets, the less wordy and more rhythm-oriented he becomes, generally the opposite of most aging writers/performers. That bodes well for a promised 2003 disc of new solo material, if anything does.