Thursday, August 28, 2008

Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust - Sigur Ros

Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

Sigur Ros
XL Records.

SCQ Rating: 83%

Last year's Heim/Hvarf collection, plus the accompanying release of Sigur Ros' first live document, Heima, found Sigur Ros where many bands are who issue stop-gap material: at a considerable crossroads. Although the icelandic troupe have never faltered since the breakthrough of Agaetis Byrjun in 1999 (nearly ten years now!!), Takk... was a clear climax, featuring enough cathartic releases of harmony and drama to exhaust even their most faithful followers. Epic, gorgeous and immensely satisfying as Takk... was, it still begged the question: what can they do after this? Really, what route can they take without releasing Takk II? And as breathtaking as Heim/Hvarf is, it's a double-edged reminder of how tired post-rock is as often as how brilliant Sigur Ros are. Being the flagship band for its genre, was it possible that Sigur Ros had outgrown post-rock?

Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (translated roughly as With a Buzz in Our Ear, We Play Endlessly) doesn't go so far as to answer that question, although first single 'Gobbledigook' made a decent, first-single bid to overhaul the Sigur Ros sound with its tribal rhythms and raw acoustics. It's a perfect example of a band completely changing while maintaining the very best of their crafts; Sigur Ros make you believe they could rival Animal Collective in the freak-folk department any day of the week. So what happens after that? Well, we get alot of great songs, some of which employing a similar use of spontaneity, but in all, a record that isn't so far removed from its older siblings. This, like those before it, is a Sigur Ros record in nearly every respect: ecstatic, feel-good rushes of cacophony, densely moving ambient ballads, great production, better songwriting, and the occasional track that goes nowhere realllly slowly. 'Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur' is probably the sixty-seventh great reason to listen to Sigur Ros when falling in love, all slapped piano chords and arena-worthy hand-claps, while 'Ára bátur' evokes a sorrow I expected the band incapable of by this point, pushed to excellence by Jonsi's incredible coos.

The only clear distinguisher between this and the earlier Sigur Ros discography is how unbalanced it can feel, as if they're divided about whether to step boldly into a second 'Goobledigook'-inflected phase, or continue to peddle their brand of classical post-rock (a template that, for the record, shows no sign of wearing thin). The tempo of their more driven material is quicker here, the tempo of their reflective material even slower; it can be difficult trying to find your footing when Sigur Ros are usually so cautious with their sequencing.

Although many of my questions stated above remain unanswered, I have no doubts that Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust is wonderful, the kind of record that I feel, a month on, I'm still cracking the surface of. Sigur Ros constantly have their work cut out for them because they've so rarely faltered, but if With a Buzz in Our Ear, We Play Endlessly does eventually edge out Takk... as the better album, I wager its secret will lie in songs like 'Íllgresi' and 'Fljótavík': songs that sum up Sigur Ros' sound - as lame as it will read, the sound that reminds us how beautiful it is to be alive - but without the long-winded meandering or overdone climaxes that post-rock has clung to and Sigur Ros has evaded criticism over. Takk... reveled in those habits, and if Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaus does end up just another classic Sigur Ros record, these moments will be its small victory.

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