Sigur Ros, 'Takk...' (Geffen)

9
Takk...
Critical Mass
Label: Geffen

by Will Hermes

On Vespertine, Björk built a perfect song ("Aurora") around the sound of feet crunching through snow. "Glósóli," the first full song on Takk..., by fellow Icelanders Sigur Rós, uses a similar groove, only wetter, and it's similarly perfect -- not just because slush-slogging seems as inborn a rhythm for them as a reggae lope for a Jamaican band, but because the gravitybound pulse makes the inevitable liftoff even more breathtaking. There is no more transportive band working in music. Dudes should really brand an airline.

Other musicians are paying attention too: Thom Yorke has crowed about the group for years, and Chris Martin, whose swooping falsetto is almost as sublime as the seraphic coo of Sigur's Jónsi Birgisson, rates the band just behind Bob Marley and Radiohead in his personal pantheon. You can hear bits of Sigur in Radiohead and Coldplay, in their tastes for dramatic builds and attention to frosty ambience. But there's a purity to Sigur Rós' music that goes beyond either group. This is partly because Birgisson sings in tongues most of us can't comprehend (Icelandic or his own invented dialect, Hopelandic), and thus he can punch emotional buttons in a strangely direct way. Who knew unintelligibility could be so deeply moving?

That Birgisson achieves such depth with a simple song template (slow/quiet, faster/louder, slow/quiet) can make Sigur Rós seem like a one-trick pony -- an impression reinforced by their oddly titled 2002 release, ( ), a less gorgeous version of 2000's Ágætis Byrjun. But Takk... adds endless colors and variations to the formula: blasts of guitar noise worthy of My Bloody Valentine, brass bands playing waltzes, ghostly vocal samples, laptop glitch. "Gong" morphs from piano-andstrings chamber music into a darkside-of-the-fjord groove that sounds like Portishead if their singer preferred Maria Callas to Billie Holiday. And on "Hoppípolla," the airborne vibe recedes momentarily, and you are dropped into a concert hall with Birgisson fronting a pomped-up orchestra like Celine Dion or something. Echoing "Glósóli," it's there to remind us that he and his bandmates tread the earth like the rest of us. But I don't believe it.

SEE ALSO: Amina, AnimaminA (The Workers Institute, 2005)

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