they sing, when they can be bothered, in an invented language called 'hopelandish'. they perform at capital-a art events with names like odin's magic raven. and now their third album is adorned with just a pair of empty brackets and no track titles. give sigur ros just enough rope and, you suspect, they would hang themselves in the tate modern. barn door-sized targets for a traditional blast of philistine british sarcasm, then. but iceland's spectral sound-surfers are leagues ahead of such parochial petulance, having earned hysterical international plaudits for their breakthrough album 'agaetis bryjun' and even toured with radiohead at thom yorke's personal request. that old line about imitation and flattery clearly holds true, since parts of '( )' would slide neatly into the softer end of 'kid a' or 'amnesiac'. this is amniotic, alt-folk, post-chamber music backed up by a winter wonderland of elemental icelandic landscape metaphors to aid critics who get stuck for reference points: glaciers, geysers, waterfalls, jagged peaks, lapping waves, volcanic vistas, you get the picture. good job they don't come from leicester.
'( )' feels more fluid in its construction than 'agaetis bryjun', its leisurely tumbling piano motifs and gently swelling strings throbbing to an apparently random pulse. when it works its magic, as on the opening suite of tracks, you will happily sit mesmerised for seven or eight minutes of glimmering sonic twilight and translucently tingling ambi-organic pearly-dewdrops droppery. but when the spell is broken, as on two or three later tunes, when more traditional instrumentation turns up late and dishevelled for a half-hearted cosmic-rock supernova, the effect is rather like gatecrashing some purgatorial soundcheck by a pink floyd covers band in, say, 1968. or possibly spiritualized.
there are moments of transcendent loveliness on '( )' which would not shame spiritually inspired modern classical composers such as arvo part or gavin bryars. and when jon thor birgisson chances a vocal in his quavering choirboy whimper, he calls to mind an etiolated neil young, deep-frozen slowcore supremos low, or even his personal hero, heroin-scarred jazz martyr chet baker. but there are also passages of exquisitely crafted new wage waffle which outstay their welcome and might have been greatly improved by some crumb of emotional engagement on the mundane, earthly level inhabited by us pop-loving mortals.
the temptation is far too great to award this album a review score of ( ). but for those of us who prefer a dash more human communication with our arty abstraction, we'll give it a seven. 7/10
(stephen d( )lton)