Instead of grabbing the listener by the hand and guiding him or her through their music, this time Sigur Rós merely opens the door and invites him or her in. After an extended hiatus (since 2008), the Icelandic post-rock group has returned with Valtari, an album that does away with anything traditional about their music.
While remaining just as chilling and mystical as it was before, the band’s overall sound grew into a much more ambient vibe with much more depth in each song. There’s less emphasis on a recognizable song structure, and more on background noises and the overall feel of the songs. This is evident from the first track, “Ég Anda”, filled with a plethora of haunting noises that don’t come from any identifiable instrument.
From then on, the album continues to have songs featuring slow builds and subtle soundscapes. “Ekki Múkk”, an instant classic, features this same entrancing flow. Frontman Jonsi’s angelic voice sounds impeccable as he reaches new peaks. A song later on in the album, “Dauðalogn”, has Jonsi’s backed by a chorus of background singers, and also exemplifies the album’s slow rises.
The single exception to the album’s ambience is Varúð, the third track. This song also has incredible vocals from Jonsi, but in an uncharacteristically loud and bold Crescendo where he is joined by grand instruments and a children’s choir. Somehow, though, it’s not a sore thumb, but an early highlight; the whole album meshes together without issue.
In a rare move, the final three tracks do not contain any lyrics. Instead, they consist of airy instrumentation and slow fading progression. It’s easy to get lost in songs like the title track, which sometimes hardly seem to be there at all. But close listening will reveal the hidden beauty of these songs. The album’s closing song, “Fjögur Píanó”, trickles out a long and simple melody spread out between four pianos whose notes sound like raindrops.
Valtari is a remarkable return for the band that breaks many boundaries for the band. These eight tracks are more like eight dreams as opposed to eight individual songs. The album’s subtlety is sometimes tricky, but more often magical; whatever the case, it has without doubt come from the genius that is Sigur Rós. SCORE: 9.5/10
Jake Bittle and Brandon Mauriello / A&E Editor and News Editor