I’ve heard someone say that Sigur Ros is what you hear playing when you ascending to Heaven and what’s ridiculous is how that statement doesn’t even strike me as preposterous.
My brother bought me their first record for Christmas some time around 2000 or 2001, before iPods and music blogs. I knew nothing about them. I put the CD in my then state-of-the-art CD walkman, put my head back on the window of the R train and drifted off into outer space. Most bands on this list are doing something, however subtlety, that is unique to them. But Sigur Ros is on an island unto themselves as far as uniqueness is concerned. The music is ethereal and otherworldly, which is not terribly surprising given that they are from Iceland, a country that is often described as…otherworldly. The lyrics are in Icelandic, or some other made-up language that I can’t understand. And yet, there is nothing clunky about this. In fact, that’s part of the appeal – the vocals and the guitars (often played with a violin bow) come together to make this crazy, beautiful sound. Bottom line: I actually remember that I was on the R train when I first heard these guys.
‘Twas in 2008 that I finally got around to seeing Sigur Ros in New York and from upper reaches of the United Palace, with a tray of checked cab beers at my feet, I could almost see the elaborate costumes worn by these fancy Icelanders. Almost. And while there were more than enough moments of transcendent majesty in Sigur Ros’ 2nd night in Washington Heights, some of the nuances were lost on me because I was too cheap to buy the $50 seats. So, I won’t hold Sigur Ros at all responsible for the fact that, while this was a terrific show, I was not completely blown away by their performance as I’d have thought I would be. In some ways, it was part of the build up in my mind. I had seen their concert film Heima http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpQ6m2Qf918 over the summer and the version of “Glosoli” was about as good as it gets – velvet underground-style visuals with lights, silhouettes and shadows, walls of beautiful sound, otherworldly vocals and anthemic crescendos. It’s safe to say that those performances set the bar pretty high and it’s also safe to say that that version of “Glosoli” blew me away on a fairly profound level.
They opened that show with “Svefn g englar” and it was predictably spellbinding. The show went on along that same path -- “Hoppipolla” was as uplifting as it sounds on the record, “Gobbildigook” was a celebration with confetti and massive percussion, and “Fijotavik” was sung with a bunch of fake candles lighting the stage. All were perfect. The list goes on and on. They sounded great – just four guys, no orchestra, but a full sound and a voice that is possibly better live than on the records. And even though I was not completely taken away by the show, as a band, these guys are top notch – tight and great on their instruments. I had in my mind that I’d be seeing one of the best live bands around and they did nothing to dispel that thought.
Over the course of the decade, they’ve drifted a little bit from the original sound that made me take notice of them in the first place. Instead of playing the guitar with a bow, they’ve added pianos and some straightforward pop songs, but not to their detriment. In fact, the song I chose here is from their most recent album, and it’s freakin’ fantastic. Check it out here.