Sigur Rós brings new album Kveikur to Cincinnati
By Kate E Lore
Sound is, of course, nothing more than a change in frequency waves – small invisible vibrations in the air molecules all around us. That combination of tones – the ups and downs, dips and pops – somehow form together into a seamless stream that can be instantly registered in our brains as language. It’s kind of amazing, and constantly being taken for granted. Even more impressive than the human brain’s instantaneous processing speed is the sculpting, mixing, layering and forming of sounds into a larger entirely new creation. This is a higher art form we encounter constantly in our daily lives and often overlook: Music.
Sigur Rós openly invites listeners to create their own interpretation, to form their own meaning of the music. It’s like an abstract sculpture: It’s beautiful, and when you look at it just right you’ll be ever so certain it is what you think it is. There are lyrics being sung, but not ones you can instantly associate into your own language. The sounds are layered, and flow with progression from one section to the next. Pounding beats, subtle protesting whines and string work dance elegantly across the room, forming into the sound Sigur Rós is known for.
Sigur Rós (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈsɪːɣʏr ˈroːus] is an Icelandic post-rock band that formed in 1994. The three founding member are Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson (guitar and vocals), Georg Hólm (bass) and Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson (drums). In 1997, the band released their first full album Von. in 1999, Sigur Ros released Ágætis byrjun, which received much critical claim. In 2002, Gunnarsson left the band and was replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason. Over the past decade, the band garnered further acclaim on their ( ) (2002), Takk (2005) and Valtari (2012) albums.
This past June, the band released their seventh studio album, Kveikur. The album features more movement than many of the previous albums, which had been trademarked by a smoothness and organic-like flow.
“It’s louder I guess, especially compared to the one previous which was very ambient. It’s more to people in their face,” said Orri Páll Dýrason about the new album. “I know [Kveikur] is going to throw some people off because it is so different from our other albums.”
Kveikur has a stronger sense of beat compared to its forerunners. You’ll notice a new charge forward motion popping up at several points throughout the album. Dýrason, being the drummer, clearly had a strong hand in this. However, this percussion was not done entirely traditionally.
“Tuned gongs I used a lot, small tuned gongs,” said Dýrason. “I use my cymbals a lot. I put them on the floor or on top of my drums.”
The track “Rafstraumur” comes in like an alarm clock. Quickly, the music jumps in with chirps like a few birds escaping into the air just before the entire flock explodes outward to fill the sky. This track is composed in such a way that at first I am very surprised it had been done without Sveinsson, who’d just recently left the band. Upon listening further, you’ll realize it’s not relying on keyboards at all. The electric guitar and other instruments take up the keyboards’ place and truly hold their own so you don’t really notice the absence.
“When we first started writing this album it was three of us, which was weird of course because [Sveinsson had] been with us for such a long time,” admitted Dýrason. “But it didn’t take so long. Working together [as just] the three of us it leaves more space. It makes more space as well, you know, good and bad.”
With music that is so composed it reaches orchestral quality, you really need just the right vocals to complete the picture. Jónsi’s vocals are a falsetto, which sail alongside the music equal in flow and balance or upon their own path, which skips along to form whatever pattern best fits the song at that moment. The lyrics are either Icelandic or Vonlenska (a created language with no set definitions), which leaves most of the music up to your interpretation.
“[Vonlenska] Was first used in ’97 with Von,” said Dýrason. “And then the first album I was involved with, the untitled album, was the first time we used it completely.”
“It’s nonsense, you know, singing without lyrics,” Dýrason laughed. “We just wanted to separate lyrics from music. And to keep it kind of more pure because sometimes when people listen to something in their head they hear some of the lyric they only think one thing and other people they think the same when they hear a song. But when it’s more open it can be more personal to people. You know, different kinds of meaning.”
Sigur Rós has been around for over a decade, but they continue to progress and expand their sound. This music will always be relevant, impactful and personal, as it will always mean exactly how it makes you feel. Timeless and limitless, the music of Sigur Rós is as open as your mind.
Sigur Rós will perform on Monday, Sept. 16 at the PNC Pavilion at The Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Ave. in Cincinnati. Ticket prices are $42-$52. Doors open at 6 p.m, show begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information, please visit sigur-ros.co.uk.
Learn more about Kate E Lore and see her web-comics and blog at KateELore.com. Kate can be reached at KateLore@DaytonCityPaper.com.