in 2006, sigur rós took a break from blowing minds around the world and went home to iceland. “it just seemed like something we had to do,” says bassist georg hólm in the new film “heima,” explaining the band’s motivation for a free concert tour spanning the island nation. “heima,” which is icelandic for “at home,” chronicles sigur rós’s journey through small towns as they spread their symphonic brilliance. the movie has been screened sporadically throughout the united states, and its forthcoming dvd release comes hot on the heels of double album “hvarf-heim.” unfortunately, the cds don’t quite live up to the visual and aural splendor of “heima.”
sigur rós has never been considered conventional, so it’s to be expected that “heima” is not your average rock documentary. there are no introductions to characters: the focus is not on the band but rather the landscape and the audience. there are no huge arenas: the performances happen in obscure places like a gymnasium or sculpture garden. there are no long interviews: only short, awkward, and often-humorous reflections.
the musicians come across as modest and down to earth, which is surprising considering only seven years have passed since they boasted on their web site, “we are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. and don’t think we can’t do it, we will.”
dean deblois’s directorial work is spectacularly disjointed. rapid shifts from concert to landscape and back again occur throughout. at one point the looks deeply focused on their music, and in the next frame pianist kjartan sveinsson leans on his keyboard and stares into the distance. during the portions of the film where the band is shown performing, the audio occasionally doesn’t match the accompanying visual. views of the audience show young children, grandparents, and many people who probably have never heard sigur rós’s music before. they are not smiling or singing along but rather listening closely, pondering each song’s perplexing beauty.
yet somehow “heima” comes together seamlessly. even though the film has little plot, meaning and emotion flood each scene. when the band performs at an abandoned fishery, strobe lights and roaring guitars bring spirit to the lifeless locale. elsewhere, playful anthem “hoppípolla” soars as children run down the beach and kites fill a cloudless sky. towards the end of the film, percussionist orri páll dýrason, after looking unsure of himself for the majority of the film, finally attacks his drums with full confidence during “popplagið.”
the greatest part of “heima” is, of course, the music. six of the acoustic versions featured in the film are collected on the confusingly titled “heim,” the second disc of new album “hvarf-heim.” without the opaque production of their previous albums, the arrangements on “heim” use abundant strings and horns to fill the gaps. “heysátan,” with its delicate brass swells, outshines the original version. standout track “ágætis byrjun” features the album’s sparsest instrumentation, allowing the listener to focus on the vocals. never has jonsi birgisson’s otherworldly falsetto, both bright and haunting at the same time, rang through as clear as it does here.
companion disc “hvarf” features three previously unreleased songs and two rerecorded pieces. single “hljómalind,” which has been known for the past seven years as “rokklagið” (“the rock song”), remains true to its working title. the song, which combines a traditional pop structure with sudden uplifting outbursts, comes across as a mixture of “hoppípolla” and “njósnavélin.” “í gær,” which was featured in the trailer for “heima,” is an epic composition in the vein of “saeglópur” and “popplagið.”
though about half of “hvarf-heim” is outstanding, the other tracks seem basically pointless. reworked versions of “samskeyti” and “vaka” sound relatively unchanged from their original form, and the two new versions of “von” have little purpose.
those expecting the next seminal sigur rós album will have to look past “hvarf-heim” and wait patiently. fortunately, the band has already met their quota for masterpieces this year. perfectly translating the mystical beauty of sigur ros’ music to film, “heima” is an enthralling documentary unlike any other.
(jeff w. feldman)