Sigur Rós – Valtari

The past few years for Sigur RósRós have been a constant blend of mystery, intrigue and miscommunications. Back in 2009, the group announced a new record, only to dismiss the notion a year later. After rumors of a hiatus in January of 2010, they were at Coachella that April and announced they were working on new material. At the Q&A following the premiere of Inni, they promised us a new album in 2012, and…that’s exactly what happened. After a few years of wishy-washy rumors, Sigur Rós’ sixth album, Valtari, is the newest official addition to the post-rock outfit’s catalogue.

During these years of uncertainty, frontman Jonsi Birgisson released his debut solo record, Go. Met with vast commercial success, the 2010 release appeared to be Jonsi’s outlet to a poppy, more jubilant mainstream sound hands-off to Sigur Rós. Although praised for dynamic instrumentation and optimistic, flighty vocals, many a critic scrutinized the lack of cohesion in the record. Regardless of popular opinion, the release was what it took to get the pop bug out of Jonsi’s system, and trademark Sigur Rós is back with Valtari, a stark opposite of Go.

Jonsi has more than made up for the criticisms with a record that is sonically tighter and more cohesive than past Sigur Rós releases. While it may not have flagship tracks such as Takk…’s “Hoppípolla” or Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’s “Gobbledigook,” Valtari takes a different approach. Each song, from the listener’s perspective, has equal weight in regards to its contribution to the whole. While most Sigur Rós records have the hiccup of a pop track, Valtari boasts a seamless flow of ambience.

With the album opening on a three-minute build of bouncy-ball-on-piano-strings plodding and Jonsi’s voice having free reign of the sonic backdrop, the album’s mood is laid out quickly in the second half of “Ég Anda.” There is no time wasted in setting the stage with the ambient grandeur expected from the Icelandic post-rockers.

While the record’s melodies are initially guarded by thick instrumentation and bowed guitars, they still manage to invade the listener’s mind and refuse to leave. The building vocal lines of “Varúð” and “Ekki Múkk” may go unnoticed on first listen, but their compositional colors are exposed upon further inspection. Sigur Rós demands digging from their listeners, and those who make the effort reap the benefits.

The record begins to lose momentum with “Dauðalogn,” but the album’s power is effortlessly (and oddly) regained with the three-part instrumental outro. The toned-down piano and delicate use of vocals throughout these final tracks creates a fragile intimacy previously absent, letting us down slowly out of the album and back into the real world.

While it may not compare to the heavy-hitting Takk… or their breakthrough Ágætis byrjun, Valtari is another top-notch record to put on the group’s seamless resume. To sum it up in one sentence, Valtari brings back the Sigur Rós that we all know and love, but presents them in a more subtle, calmer light than more recent releases.

Top tracks include “Varúð,” “Ekki Múkk” and “Valtari.”


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