Tuesday, January 13, 2009
( ) - Sigur Ros (Winter Albums)
Fat Cat Records.
SCQ Rating: 88%
Picasso’s Blue Period, as far as I’m aware, was never meant to be interpreted beyond its aesthetic. Its signature - that the artist discovered and explored his allure to monochromatic contrasts – wasn’t nearly as durable as its name, which has been re-appropriated and reinterpreted countless times under emotional guises. Many artists since have explained their crafts as having been born from an affecting “blue period”, noting that personal conflicts (a break-up, addiction, death, etc.) became imbedded to their professional work. ( ), Sigur Ros’ follow-up to the much-heralded Agaetis Byrjun, is truly the Blue Period of my generation; a recording that deals in melancholic shifts as strictly as it abides by its monochromatic aesthetic.
The drastic divides between ( ) and the band’s previous output has been both drooled over exhaustively and, well, super-obvious, so I’ll sum it up quickly: the band tore apart its awe-inspired orchestral sound, Jonsi Birgisson embraced an imaginary language, songs were refused titles, and the resulting album was titled with punctuation. Oh, and their drummer was replaced, as if disoriented fans had a chance to notice. Interesting how all these innovations which make for such curious fanboy banter accumulate to make ( ), a record that is at once their most shockingly original full-length as well as a virtual blank canvas for listeners. So richly detailed one could spend a year disassembling its layers (for example, max out your stereo speakers and start ‘Untitled 2’ to hear this record’s ghosts being reborn), yet so sparsely designed as to comply with most modern ambient templates, ( ) is truly an elusive masterwork. Although most every track moves at a funereal pace, and although the nine minute dirge of ‘Untitled 6’ glides effortlessly into the nihilistic thirteen minute ‘Untitled 7’, ( ) overcomes its purposeful sterility with a ton of heart. ‘Untitled 1’ breaks its crest over waves of wrenching vocals and ‘Untitled 3’ dances over a starry piano coda, but it’s ‘Untitled 8’ that deems this album a classic; an easy acoustic refrain that morphs into an aggressive behemoth, detonating every careful nuance that came before it. After ( )’s second half lulled us into no man’s land, ‘Untitled 8’ is a perfectly timed explosion to remind us how thrilling Sigur Ros are.
The believed intent of performing all of ( )’s lyrics in Hopelandic was so each listener could interpret them personally and write them along the blank liner notes. Whether that’s fact or wishful thinking, I strongly stand by the theory. A record this oblique can undoubtedly mean something – no matter how varied or far-reaching – to anyone who gives it a chance. For me it was in a closet-sized student house in the winter of 2002; trying desperately to outgrow my adolescence. I never took to writing lyric interpretations through my CD liner notes although even now, listening to Jonsi’s hollow phrasing six years later, I remember old sensations - like phonetic memories - provoked and sculpted from his every word. It technically means nothing, yet somehow in that verbal vacuum it comes to mean everything we attached to it; a Blue Period we fans shared with the band responsible. Meanwhile, how Picasso’s Rose Period escaped all this reinterpretation is beyond me...