breaking the ice: sigur rós wrestle with the pop aesthetic in a language few speak but everyone can understand.
'have you ever tasted whale?' asks georg holm, the lanky bass player of sigur rós, standing before a dormant row of whaling ships in reykjavík's fishing harbour. it's 11.30pm, and the sun is still shining, thanks to the white nights of the summer. 'whale is delicious,' he continues. 'they're going to bring back whaling here, you know, because the whales are eating too much fish.' in a sense, these abandoned, rusted ships are the ideal description of sigur rós' music, which is as eery as it is distinctly icelandic.
far more so than their predecessors, the sugarcubes and gus gus, sigur rós reflect the barren, lunar landscape of this peculiar country. as the name (borrowed from a friend's little sister) implies, they've made the impractical decision to forgo english, singing in a weird form of icelandic that even the locals don't understand. it's a risk the sugarcubes were understandably reluctant to take before iceland was on the music map, re-releasing 'ammæli' as the 'birthday' that most of us got to know. aside from being impossible to pronounce, 'ágætis byrjun' (a good start), just released in iceland, also has no song under seven minutes, which should make things all the more challenging for sigur rós.
jónsi birgisson sings these opiated lullabies, and plays his guitar with a violin bow, revealing something of his alter-ego as a mad symphony conductor. 'that's a great description of our music,' he says, pondering the sinking ship comparison. 'one icelandic journalist came to our show and wrote that it was so beautiful she had to run to the bathroom to throw up.' we assume she meant it as a compliment.