There’s something wonderfully familiar about Sigur Rós. Their vast and ethereal soundscapes have soundtracked everything from cult movies to prime time television, filtering into our lives for well over a decade. Whether it was in the bleak climatic moments of ‘()’s ‘Njósnavélin’ in Tom Cruise’s blockbuster Vanilla Sky, or ‘Ágætis Byrjun’s ‘Starálfur’ in the Wes Anderson cult classic The Life Aquatic; even simply the awe-inspiring ‘Hoppipolla’ that has gone on to almost define the sound of BBC’s Planet Earth, their music has infiltrated our homes and minds. More directly, their albums have come to represent so much musically. Words like ‘glacial’ and ‘spacious’, ‘haunting’ and ‘expansive’ have never sounded so warm and inviting. Their songs have to come to personify nature; the tinkering of instruments whispering like the wind, stirring like ice, falling like raindrops. Here are a band who have come to create such a perfect sense of musical harmony that they’re the go-to music for pregnant women entering childbirth.
Their sixth studio album ‘Valtari’, released last year, marked both their return from a hiatus-of-sorts, and the final chapter for one member. An outwardly admitted struggle, it was created using a number of different sessions from the previous few years. Somehow, one day, they fell together and made sense as a whole. The result, Jónsi explains, wasn’t the most cohesive. “‘Valtari’ is kinda only Sigur Rós, but maybe that’s kind of…” he trails off. “I don’t know. It’s just from so many time periods and different recordings that it is a little bit schizophrenic and all over the place. I think ‘Kveikur’ is definitely who we are now. It [was recorded] in a few sessions, but it’s definitely more cohesive and more together than the other songs. It’s more like a whole.”
Another important factor in the somewhat new direction of the band lay in the departure of keyboardist Kjaratan Sveinsson. Having left, according to the band in their recent Reddit AMA session, because he had “spent half his life in the band and it was time to do something different,” he left a hole which needed to be creatively filled. To do so, the trio – completed by Georg Hólm and Orri Páll Dýrason – felt it was time to further experiment, and explore a new, darker territory. “Maybe the difference is just because our keyboard player quit,” Jónsi suggests, “and we knew we had to do something different, do something drastic. We went back to basics, in that way. We started playing in Orri, our drummer’s, garage. Because Kjartan wasn’t there, we were losing the fourth dimension of his keyboard playing. We maybe experimented a bit more, and tried different things; a lot more with the computer, and stuff like that.”
The results are astonishing. Whilst still bearing that undeniably familiar ring of Sigur Rós, their newest full-length showcases a wholly different side to their ability. Their loudness is tremendous, some moments are menacing and there’s an urgency pumping through ‘Kveikur’s veins that, at times, feels terrifying, yet comforting. Their song titles boast translations such as ‘Storm’, ‘Brimstone’ and ‘Electric Current’. They are forces of nature to be reckoned with. In fact, it’s almost as though after the lulling, bewitching nature of their previous effort, they’ve finally been plunged into cold water and their hearts are pummelling. Just like the translation of the title itself – a wick, or kindling - they’re igniting again. “We wanted the title to be fitting to the album, basically. This is a fresh start for the three of us, so, we thought that it suited the album quite well. It’s the idea of something exciting, and something coming to life.” Twenty years in, and still evolving.
Sigur Rós’s new album ‘Kveikur’ will be released on 17th June via XL Recordings.
Read the full interview in the new edition of DIY Weekly, available from iTunes now.