Sunday, September 18, 2005

Takk... (þessi var fallegur)

Sigur Rós are still most famous for Njósnavélin, their song from the album ( ) which appears near the end of the movie Vanilla Sky. They are notorious among unimaginative denizens of pop culture for the lack of lyrics in their music.

That’s a misunderstanding, and it’s wrong to say they have never sung: lead singer and guitarist jón þór birgisson does sing, but sometimes in a flow of vowel and consonant sounds which sound like Icelandic but actually aren’t language as we know it — it is called vonlenska or ‘hopelandic’. While we’re on the subject, each album, apart from ( ), has had a real-word title and real-word song titles, and has been sung mostly in Icelandic.

This new album, Takk..., contains a few hopelandic songs, and is a happier collection than ( ). Since three of the four members have married since ( ) and jónsi is happily settled with his boyfriend, this is unsurprising:

the album is called takk [thanks]. why?
takk. it’s a word that’s followed us through the years. oh, and it also means thank you.
does this word reflect your outlook towards music?
yes. we are thankful. we are content with where we are now and how things have worked out.
and where are you now?
we’re in a good place. we feel good. we get to make this music. it’s a privilege.
it’s safe to say you’ve done well.
yes. and not just that. we’re happy about our lives. but of course, things will go up and down.
is there a concept behind takk?
no. we have never been much for concepts even though it sometimes looks like it. concepts come afterwards. when you look closely at a work it’s always easy to find a concept there but we have never approached a project with a predetermined concept in mind. it’s not our style, really. sigur rós is not a clever band. there are no deep thoughts behind what we are doing.

Taken in that spirit, this album, as well as being happier than the last, embodies both the quiet and ecstatic frames of mind that arise out of a settled, grounded life. The mood it generated in my mind is the same quiet, centred, aching mood I have had while walking in beautiful, harsh outdoor surroundings: Sigur Rós are known to enjoy the landscapes of their native country, but it is the known and remembered mood that helps the process here, rather than the landscape itself.

inspiration is everywhere and nowhere. i can’t point in any direction. inspiration comes from your environment, the people you surround yourself with, movies, books, soap operas, mom and dad, nature. whatever. i’ve never been in a situation where i’ve felt i’m inspired by it. i have never gotten a great idea standing on a mountain. i’ve been up on a mountain and enjoyed how it made me feel. this might of course influence me as a person but that doesn’t mean it inspires me to make a piece of music.

And while this magnificent lifting of the spirit from ordinary things is evident in the album’s couple of impassioned crescendos, a quieter happiness is evident in tracks like Hoppípolla, whose lyrics are about jumping in puddles. Jónsi says of the lyrics: “when it comes to words we freeze up. we listened to the songs together and let the music trigger words in us. i think we learned something from this experience. the lyrics are very simple and naïve. moments and small adventures. nothing too deep.”

This music is magnificent, and of course while it’s interesting to surf around and find trascriptions and translations of the lyrics, they are not everything. The album definitely doesn’t fit within pop culture, which Sigur Rós seem to creatively dislike. I love it, and I highly recommend it.

As far as interest in the band goes, there is naturally only one place to visit: eighteen seconds before sunrise.

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