in britain, we rely on television presenters such as griff rhys jones and alan titchmarsh to show us the majesty of our landscape. in iceland, the job seems to be doneby a rock band. that is the gist of helma, a lovely new filmin which sigur ros play a series of gigs in remote and beautiful bits of their homeland.
there are waterfalls and abandoned herring factories. there is mist over ice floes and a surfeit of knitwear. there is also a sense that the band are determined to anchor their ethereal and globally successful music in the traditions of this peculiar country. plenty of critics have described sigur ros's ambient rock as unearthly. but really, heima implies, they just want to be seen as icelandic.
it is a neat idea, but one that is less pronounced on the album that accompanies heima. sigur r&s are a notoriously awkward bunch, and consequently hvarf-heim is nothing so straightforward as a film soundtrack. instead, there are two distinct discs. the first, hvarf (it translates as "disappeared"), features five old songs — either unreleased or from their rare first album — rendered in the typical sigur r&s style. that style, for neophytes, is a slow and keening update of the early 1990s indie trend known as shoegazlng. fans will detect immeasurable symphonic grandeur, while doubters will hear only tedium. for the more ambivalent among us, parts of hvarf are certainly stirring. but, removed from the glorious wild vistas of the movie, much of it feels a little blustery and ponderous.
meanwhile, helm ("home") collects six acoustic versions of more familiar songs. even without their trademark tool — an electric guitar played by a bow — these tracks still retain sigur ros's doleful, cushioned sound, probably thanks to a sombre string quartet. only agaetis byrjun, a highlight of the film, has any stripped-down charm.
electric or acoustic, it is the uniformity of hvarf-heim that frustrates, especially after watching heima. in the film, the band employ brass bands, play stone marimbas and duet with a formidably booming local folk singer. sadly, none of these adventures makes it on to hvarf-heim. this album strives to locate iceland's soul, but it could just as easily soundtrack the next series of coast.