When the Vikings discovered Iceland around 1000 A.D., they named it to deceive other travelers in search of a warm, comfortable home. It was a sneaky move, but when have the Vikings ever been known to be compassionate and caring? If only there had been mass production of music a millennium ago, the Norse travelers wouldn’t have had to go through all that trouble. Sigur Ros would’ve warded off enough foreigners with their chilling ambiance.
Known for their expansive sonic environments, cocooning vocals and destructive crescendos, the Icelandic quartet Sigur Ros ambushed the music world’s conception of epic, intellectual composition. Coming off of 2002’s ( ) and dance-inspired, music-box freak-out Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do, Sigur Ros made fans’ mouths water in anticipation of Takk. They don’t disappoint.
Takk is laden with Sigur Ros’s signature atmospherics and vocals but diverges into uncharted, more optimistic territory than on previous releases. Gorgeous string arrangements replace the dead air and ambient drones that marked earlier works. But the still indecipherable, yet melodic and cheerier, moans of lead singer Jon Bor Birgisson infuse a sense of hope into the group’s sometimes-downtrodden sound.
Sigur Ros’s sound isn’t unlike Homer’s sirens. It lures with comforting, melodic songs before it destroys listeners with bombasts of guitars, strings and chimes. Birgisson’s croons on “Glosoli” fill the room with a glossy warmth, while a parade of cymbal crashes and distorted guitars march in unannounced. By the time listeners realize it, the track is stampeding through the air.
“Saeglopur” is another iceberg-like song. What appears to be a fairly harmless, subtle track is quickly overtaken by the feedback, driving percussion and angelic vocals beneath.
Not all of Takk is that deviant. “Meo Blodnasir” is bright and heartfelt from the outset. The sunrise cymbal splashes and choir carry the two-minute interlude from beginning to end. Its palm-muted guitar and interweaving xylophone lines are a welcome departure. “Se Lest” sounds like an extension of Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do with its dependence on auxiliary percussion. The song is a lullaby amplified by Birgisson’s manipulated falsetto. It ends with a schizophrenic episode of waltzing horns.
Takk houses Sigur Ros’s most ambitious departure from their early work. “Gong” opens with a seemingly electronic drum beat and staccato bass line. It is surprisingly reminiscent of Radiohead’s Kid A. While to an untrained ear Birgisson and Yorke’s vocals might occasionally be mistaken for one another, the two groups’ music rarely, if ever, crossed paths. The track’s dependence on a guitar riff gives the song a more conventional structure and groove.
However, aside from their envelope-pushing albums, Sigur Ros is notorious for their live shows. While many contemporary artists’ music translates poorly to a more personal stage, Sigur Ros’s soars to new heights. Their ambience and atmospherics are said to enthrall listeners and hurl them into a wholly different sonic experience.
Because of this reputation, Sigur Ros has legions of fans willing to follow them around the globe. Their Sept. 20, Michigan Theater show sold out in approximately two minutes – a feat nearly unheard of for anyone of their popularity. Those sales are generally reserved for groups like The Pixies and – during the height of their ill-fated popularity – the Backstreet Boys.
In recent years, Sigur Ros fans have drawn been compared to worshipers of groups like the Grateful Dead, but not in that let’s-go-smoke-weed-and-trip-out-to-this-band kind of way. Rather, Sigur Ros’s fans are being compared to the Dead’s notorious Deadheads (the legion of people willing to follow the band across the continent). While their number is significantly smaller than the number of Deadheads, fans of Sigur Ros are just as vigilant and dedicated to their idols.
Takk is another installment in the infallible, fan-crazed catalog of Sigur Ros. The group continues to consistently produce some of the smartest and most dense music being made without sounding played-out and monotonous. Many would argue that Sigur Ros is pretentious, pompous music that only elitist indie critics can get behind. The excellence of Takk and their large following attest to the opposite. These Vikings have earned the hype.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars