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Beyond words

>> Icelandic quartet Sigur Rós draw a blank


 

by LORRAINE CARPENTER

Lush and spiritual, emotional and ethereal, the sound of Sigur Rós bears a quaint yet otherworldly mystique shared with other Icelandic music. It’s a trait that drooling critics and reverent fans alike find so mysterious and endearing, often to the amusement of the musicians themselves. Their breakout album, 2000’s Ágætis byrjun (“a new start” or “a good start”), showed how far traditional rock instrumentation can veer from the norm, elevating listeners with haunting epics void of radio-friendly devices, like language. With their new album (-), out this week, Sigur Rós have gone a step further.

“There are no titles,” says drummer Orri Pall Dyrason. “When we were writing the songs, we didn’t have lyrics—we’ve never had lyrics—just these silly working titles. We thought the songs were good as they were, and, you know, our other titles were in Icelandic, so people didn’t understand anything anyway! It’s like the album is unfinished and the listener gets his own pure expression and finishes it himself. We are very interested to know how people interpret it.”

To encourage this participation, the band have left the CD booklet blank, allowing listeners to write, doodle or draw where lyrics would be, as the band has yet to develop a written form of so-called “Hopelandic.”

“We just said it once when we were joking in an interview, ‘Yeah, Hopelandic, huh-huh,’ and then the journalist said that we had made up our own language,” explains Dyrason. “Jonsi’s not using any language when he sings, it’s just some blubberings, using his voice like an instrument. We only called it Hopelandic because the first song he did this is in was called ‘Hope’.”

Though mixed in Peter Gabriel’s Real World compound, (-) was laboriously recorded in Mosfellsbær, at Sigur Rós’ own studio. “It’s an old swimming pool, so it’s got this great, open sound,” says Dyrason. “It’s close but still out of Reykjavik, 15 to 20 minutes north. It used to be a wool factory and now it’s mostly artists, painters and sculptors who live there. It’s really peaceful and nice.

“The songs were recorded pretty much live, and the string arrangements are much more subtle. Amina, the string quartet that’s touring with us, did most of the arrangements on the album themselves. We just told them to play along with the music, we didn’t make a score. It was hard at first, but it ended really good.”

Sigur Rós fans, particularly those of the stoned variety, have been known to faint during their shows, typically booked in venues meant for dancing, or at least toe-tapping.

“Yes, people can get too relaxed. It’s easier to sit down for us, we’re not a rock ’n’ roll band,” says Dyrason, promising some extra stimulation on this tour. “We made movies, but they’re really abstract, you can’t see what’s going on most of the time, just colours and some movement. We have a camera and editing computer in the basement of our studio so it was great fun, you know, doing something other than music.” :

At Metropolis tonight, Thursday, Oct. 31, 9pm, $30

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