In the spirit of music milestones such as Dylan going electric and Kiss removing their makeup, Sigur Rós have written their first song in English. They save the big reveal for the end, but the rest of their fifth album proves to be almost as noteworthy, swapping ethereal splendor for tighter songcraft.
“Gobbledigook” introduces the Icelandic group’s new, more dynamic sound with a surge of rapid-fire la la las and flamenco handclaps. Things only get more uncharacteristically jubilant with “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur,” whose sprightly bells and blazing horns provide more movement than on the band’s first four studio records combined. Even the somewhat less spirited “Við spilum endalaust” manages to pack a whole orchestra around a radio-friendly melody.
But on the nine-and-a-half-minute “Festival,” their familiar, atmospheric sound floats back in like a hymn, until halfway through, when it does an about-face, building a grand pulsing wall of strings and voices. From then on, the album shies from crescendos, and a series of slow numbers drift in yet another direction, leading up to the sleepy closer, “All Alright.” What message could be so important for the group to break from its usual patois of Icelandic and made-up Hopelandic? Who knows? Jónsi Birgisson delivers his English lyrics as cryptically as always: hushed, fragile, and unintelligible. They may as well be Elvish.