Icelandic band’s new CD a good listen for novices

Jenna Gerling

Photo courtesy of Xi Recordings

Credit: Ron Soltys



Released by XI Recordings

Stater rating (out of five): 2.0

Don’t you just love foreign bands? Like Russian rap or French boy bands — well, what about experimental, instrumental Icelandic?

With Sigur Rós’ new album, Hvarf/Heim, listeners can experience music that doesn’t make a bit of sense. While unable to comprehend the words, the listener can really focus in on Sigur Rós’ inventive sound. It is melodic, classical, experimental and minimalist. Lead singer Jónsi’s falsetto voice haunts and howls.

Each track of the album sweeps you with loveliness: the vocals always wail, the instruments always sound precise and clear and the beat is always slow and evoking.

This two-disc album has rerecorded songs from Sigur Rós first album, Von (Hope) and the acoustic versions of more well-known songs. It has songs such as “Salka,” “Hljómalind,” “Í G‘r” and “Von” on Hvarf, and acoustic studio versions of the songs “Samskeyti,” “Starálfur,” “Vaka,” “Ág‘tis Byrjun,” “Heysátan” and “Von,” on Heim.

Hvarf opens with “Salka,” a very soothing, simplistic melody with winding guitar melodies and an enviable capacity to sound both wistful and triumphant at the same time. “Von” sounds like an opera is tuning up before a show.

The second album draws you right into the nature of Iceland. Chirruping birds sound quietly in the background and waterfalls are hushed behind their violins and pianos.

When compared to a personal favorite album, Ág‘tis Byrjun (An Alright Start), the second release from Sigur Rós in 1999, Hvarf/Heim doesn’t place far behind. I could listen to “Starálfur” (Staring Elf) for hours. The orchestration is so moving and powerful, I can’t help but blast it in my little Hyundai Accent. Aside from the odd side-glances from neighboring drivers, I relish in this Icelandic music that takes you so far away from the busy college streets and crowded parking lots.

Unfortunately, this version of the song doesn’t stand up to its predecessor, but it still sounds beautiful. The music isn’t nearly as powerful as it is in Ág‘tis Byrjun, which is one of the song’s best qualities.

But the one thing that really annoyed me and my empty wallet is that the latest album costs quite a bit of money for what you’re getting, which is essentially rerecorded tracks from previous albums.

It’s up to you if you think it’s worth it — if you own some of their albums already, you may want to avoid this one unless you want to hear a similar version played for you acoustically. If you don’t own any of them yet, this could be a good way to get introduced to them.

Contact all correspondent Jenna Gerling at [email protected].