Thursday, May 14, 2009
1. Agaetis Byrjun - Sigur Ros, 1999 (Best of the 90s)
I had spent the winter of 2002 with ( ), holed up in my student bedroom and embracing its sterile stillness compounded by some of the worst London icestorms in recent memory. When April exams finished up, my roommates and I all emigrated back to our hometowns where manual labour and the hopeless claws of high school clung true and tight. That’s where I first heard Agaetis Byrjun; in my buddy’s parent’s car, weaving under the humid streetlights of our childhood streets at 3am, and the impression - that I’d heard one of the finest albums ever – is resoundingly confirmed today.
What seemed ultimately shocking about Agaetis Byrjun was how full of life it sounded in contrast to ( ), as if the Icelandic four-piece had blossomed into Spring after what could only be felt as an emotional ice-age. When they aren’t laying down their cinematic, slow-core framework with the warm organs of ‘Flugufrelsarinn’ or classical piano ambitions of ‘Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa’, Sigur Ros startle with the mounting tension and full-brass attack of ‘Ny Batteri’. With the benefit of hindsight, one can hear in Agaetis Byrjun the foreshadowing of every Sigur full-length that followed; the muted shifts of ( ) in ‘Avalon’, the parading orchestral enthusiasm of Takk… in ‘Staralfur’ and the acoustic trepidation of the title track which flourished on Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. Speaking from the time period, however, each of these compositions seemed woven from but one finely stitched imagination, completely alien from any musical sphere known to man.
Often I’ve wondered whether the inverted (and thusly chronological) shock of hearing Agaetis Byrjun first would’ve bested the course I stumbled upon, but it hardly matters. Funny thing is, there’s nothing about my love for Agaetis Byrjun that boils down to sweet nostalgia. While I might look back upon that summer of discovery with a slight smirk, I remember – between my awful 4am workdays and general restlessness - how unpleasant those months were. This record hardly needs a memory-crutch as it remains a document of uncompromised beauty, wonder and originality; one capable of casting a positive light on just about everything and anyone. Yes, this is a technicality since the record was only available domestically in Iceland until 2001, but if there was one record ready to take us into the new millennium, it’s Agaetis Byrjun.