Maybe it was the departure of long time keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, maybe it’s the fact that it’s been a mere 13 months since their last record – whatever the reason, something has changed for Sigur Rós.
The first clue as to the band’s new sound for Kveikur comes from its album art. Always the floaty, ethereal imagery loving band, Sigur Rós mix it up with a stark white on black image of arms, obscured faces and bodies. If that doesn’t alienate the band’s ethereal post-rock fan base, the first track Brennisteinn might just. One of the most texturally dense and compositionally bold tracks of their career, it kicks off with an almost industrial style beat, crunchy guitar distortion and relatively middle range vocals from falsetto savant Jón ‘Jónsi’s’ Þór Birgisson – the song is a powerful statement that this is not the Sigur Rós of old.
Thing do become more familiar as the album moves on – Jónsi’s trademark vocals to reappear, as beautiful as ever, though they now soar over a darker landscape than previously crafted. Tracks like Hrafntinna and Yfirborð show the power the band can command over pop sensibilities, and how playful they can become when injecting some darker flourishes into the mix.
Even at their worst, Sigur Rós have always been a powerful band. The one criticism is that is easily levelled to them is their own familiarity with sound. In the 13 years following Ágætis Byrjun’s landmark release, the band has riffed on various forms and ideas all permanently tethered to their airy, ambient ‘poppy’ brand of post-rock. Kveikur may not be the band’s greatest album, but it’s arguably the greatest step forward they’ve made as artists their whole career.
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