CD CHOICE: Sigur Rós/ValtariParlophone ****
To some, Sigur Rós’ music sounds like the sort of thing you’d hear mid-massage at a beauty spa. It’s true that much of the Reykjavik band’s back catalogue consists of plaintive sounds that have been trussed up and shaped into songs that are best consumed with your eyes closed and your head resting on something soft.
Sigur Rós have been ambient indie and post-rock pioneers since their inception in 1994, though they’ve occasionally diverged into more bombastic fare, as evidenced on their last album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, as well as Go, frontman Jón “Jónsi” Birgisson’s effervescent solo outing from 2010.
Having regrouped after a four-year break (and abandoning recording sessions that were described as “pear-shaped” by bassist Georg Hólm), the quartet’s sixth studio album is their most introspective in recent years. The eight songs that comprise Valtari (Roller) are languid compositions that glide in and out of glistening orchestration, scale fragile peaks of shimmering, subtle electronics, and land with occasionally beefy thuds, if the grimy apex of opening track Ég Anda is anything to go by.
Jónsi’s childlike falsetto plays as big a role as ever on several of these songs; his unique, brittle quiver lightens the tone of Ekki Múkk beautifully and warms the melodic underbelly of eerie standout Rembihnútur and the harmonic, hymnal Dauðalogn with similarly natural poise.
Yet it’s not the singer’s contribution alone that makes Valtari such an engaging, meditative listen. The lyric-less numbers (Valtari, Fjögur píanó) are equally crucial to setting the tone, whether it’s the atmospheric flicker and hiss of the former or the gentle evocative wheeze of strings that concludes the album on the latter.
To fully appreciate this record may require a certain degree of understanding of Sigur Rós’s established modus operandi, but Valtari bridges the gap between contemporary classical and post-rock music quite brilliantly. A soothing way to spend 54 minutes, whether you’re stretched out on a massage table or not. sigurros.com
Download tracks: Ekki Múkk, Rembihnútur