14 October 2008
Rock epic of the month: "Glósóli" (Sigur Rós) 2005
Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.
This month, I'm really stretching the bounds of what can be considered "rock".
Sigur Rós burst out of Iceland in the mid-nineties, and some said at the time that they probably would have been long forgotten if it wasn't for a fascination with Icelandic culture that was brought to the world's attention via the work of former Sugarcubes frontwoman Björk Guðmundsdóttir, an Icelandic singer who probably would be better described as a performance artist. Or even a complete nutcase.
But where Guðmundsdóttir mined a genre all her own, Sigur Rós were probably better described as riding the wave of a peculiar genre known as post-rock.
Post-rock really was lazy journalist-speak for "How the frig do we categorise this?" It included acts like Tortoise, Mogwai and Don Caballero, and has since been used in arrears to describe some of the work by bands such as Public Image Ltd and the later work of Talk Talk.
Things that post-rock bands seem to have in common is a complete disregard for structure, as well as using their instruments in different ways to provide textures that would otherwise not make an appearance in rock music.
Sigur Rós started in Reykjavic and were named after Sigurrós, the sister of singer and guitarist Jón Þór "Jónsi" Birgisson. Completing the band were Georg "Goggi" Hólm on bass and Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson on drums.
(Fair dinkum, there's a reason why keyboards in the anglosphere don't have accented letters, not to mention Þ (thorn), ð (eth) and Æ (ash). It's because these letters were replaced in old English by different combinations of letters that do the same thing. I am getting so tired of typing these, but I'll struggle on.)
Anyway, not long after their first album, Von, Birgisson, Hólm and Gunnarsson were joined by Kjartan "Kjarri" Sveinsson on keyboards. They soon released Ágætis Byrjun, an album that introduced the world to Birgisson's penchant for playing his guitar with a cello bow.
Gunnarsson left the band soon after to be replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason who joined the band to lend his skills to the outrageously, pretentiously titled ( ). ( ) featured eight untitled tracks guaranteed to send you barmy, and introduced Birgisson's new fascination with singing gibberish which he called, "Hopelandic".
Their previous groundwork could be described as parts that were either truly "cutting edge" or straightforward wank. In 2005, Birgisson, Hólm, Gunnarsson and Sveinsson lay down tracks in the studio for the album where their experiments with sonic textures finally coalesced into something that, while still pretentious, hit the mark musically. That album was called Takk... and was, just like its predecessors, extraordinarily well received by the critics.
Unlike Takk...'s predecessors, though, you got the distinct impression that this time, the effusive praise from the critics was a bit more sincere, rather than, "Oh shit, I better give this one top marks, because I don't know what the hell is going on and I'll look like a philistine if I don't."
The towering "Glósóli" (6:15) was the apotheosis of this album. Featuring a nice rhythmic groove, courtesy of Hólm and Dýrason, this just moseys on down with rather lovely keyboard cascades from Sveinsson.
Over the top, but nicely buried in the mix, is Birgisson's completely weird-arse falsetto, which almost certainly relegates Guðmundsdóttir's to the top of the "normal" heap.
And it builds. Oh my sweet FSM, how it builds.
By the time that this tune finally unleashes a full-blown scary monster, Birgisson has put his voice away and is blasting out klaxons on his guitar, turning all atmospheric on us at just about the right time.
Oh, and the video is absolutely perfect too.
Be blown away by this. It is frightfully good stuff.