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music: mere words canęt describe sigur ros

the icelandic bandęs oddly titled new album turns out to be much ado about not enough

in the annals of pretentious album titles, the latest cd by the critically revered icelandic band sigur ros sets a newăand perhaps insurmountableăbenchmark. until now the champ was probably fiona apple, whose second cd had as its title a 90-word allegorical poem about chess or something. but at least she used actual words.

sigur ros is a high-minded, genre-busting group, known for eight-minute songs that build to ecstatic climaxes, but thatęs no excuse for naming their album this: ”( ).” yup, those are parentheses. so what does it mean? who knows? maybe itęs a joke, a really funny icelandic knee-slapper that just doesnęt translate, but i doubt it. the four men of sigur ros (which means –victory rose”) have never been the funny-ha-ha type. after all, the new albumăwhich, parentheses be damned, ięm calling –the new album”ăhas eight songs, and all of them are untitled. no, these guys are serious.

this sort of nonsense might fly in reykjavik, but itęs forgivable here only if the music is something special. sigur rosęs breakthrough cd, 1999ęs –agaetis byrjun (good start),” could have withstood all the pretensions. the tracks on –agaetis” took their sweet time, with jon thor birgissonęs angelic vocalsăa mixture of his native icelandic and made-up sounds that he calls –hopelandish”ăoften waiting several minutes to join a twinkling guitar-and-strings melody. the crescendos, when they finally arrived, felt like earthquakes. –agaetis” landed on dozens of top-10 lists, and the band was hailed as the second coming of radiohead.

the trouble with –the new album,” whose overall tone is more spare and sorrowful than –agaetis,” is that too many of the songs build and build and then ... end. the bandęs got gorgeous melodies to burn, but they wind up being much ado about not enough. the cd clocks in at 71 minutes, and long stretches of it bring the same exhilaration as a good, hard, soul-cleansing cry. the rest sounds more like the score to a sad movie than a proper album. silly me, though, using words to make my point. letęs put this in language sigur ros can understand. :-(

(devin gordon)

 

 

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