SYDNEY, AU. (EMI MUSIC AUSTRALIA) -After a chilling excursion into the artscape, Iceland's Sigur Rós come in from the cold.
'There is nothing clever about Sigur Rós and how we write songs, it's just mucking about really. It's all very spontaneous,' says Sigur Rós keyboardist Kjartan
Easy for him to say. Most musicians could muck about for millennia and never come up with anything approaching the elegance and depth of Takk …, the fourth album from Iceland's glacially cool art rock quartet. In Iceland, Takk translates to a simple 'thanks' - which begs the question: what is Sigur Rós thanking us for? Perhaps it's for sticking by them during what for many fans has been the band's baffling excursion into the far-distant realms of sonic art.
In 2002, Sigur Rós confounded admirers of their breakthrough CD, Ágætis Byrjun, (voted by the UK's Q Magazine, as 'the last great record of the 20th century') with a grimly atmospheric third album, ( ), a chilly compendium of title-less songs that sold over 600,000 copies but one suspects is not often played by people in a positive frame of mind. Writing music for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Danish Royal Ballet and composing a 70-minute orchestral work called Odin's Raven Magic didn't exactly enhance their reputation for easy listening.
Looking back, Jón Birgisson (vocals, guitars), Kjartan Sveinsson (keyboards), Orri Páll Dýrason (drums) and Georg Holm (bass), see ( ) as a retreat from the intense heat generated by their success. In the time between Ágætis Byrjun's appearance in Iceland and its final release in Japan, the group toured relentlessly for three years. ( ) simply reflected their mindset. It was also a struggle to record, with the band chasing live-sounding versions of its darkest soundscapes in their newly built studio, a converted swimming pool 10km outside of Reykjavik.
'This album sounds much more optimistic than the previous one,' says Kjartan Sveinsson. 'When we were doing the previous one there was so much going on you know with us, as a band and as people. Things were going quite fast and we were really tired. After we did Agetis Byrjun everything went so fast - signing record deals and meeting all these new people in different countries. It was a scary thing really. [With] this album we had more time just to play around in the studio.'
'Ágætis Byrjun is sort of like a fairytale record and we really enjoyed [making] that,' adds Georg Holm. 'But the last record was more like a Grimm fairytale – very dark. So, yeah, I think we wanted to do it again, because it feels happy. I think we were a bit sick of this depression.'
Takk… may be something of a return to melody and song structure but you won't hear the bus driver whistling this one – even if he or she happens to be fluent in 'Hopelandish', Jón Birgisson's self-invented nonsense language.
But even a casual listen reveals that Takk … is easily their most instantly accessible record to date. The funereal drone of ( ) is replaced by bass, drums, piano and horns. Loops and strings are more prominent than ever before. There are lyrics, but Birgisson's voice seldom rises above barely audible squeals and sighs.
A 65-minute suite of 11 linked pieces, Takk… came together relatively quickly (for Sigur Rós, who have a reputation for glacial workflows), with recording starting in earnest in December 2004 and mixing completed just six months later. According to the band – with Icelandic tongue firmly wedged in Icelandic cheek - 'This is our rock & roll album. 'True, on occasion they play loud and fast, but few of the clichés of the rock genre emerge recognisably intact after being filtered through Sigur Rós.