Label: XL Recordings
I have yet to listen to anything this year that is entirely in a different language. With the help of Sigur Rós, I was able to delve into that territory. With an intentionally edgier approach to their project, the Icelandic post rock trio come through with an album that would steer their music into a heavier new direction.
When I sit back and take in much of what Sigur Rós has put out in the past, the word "ambient" seems just about right. Their songs are often soft, contemplative music that strikes an emotional chord inside of the listener. For the most part, minimalism is the forefront for what characterizes their sound. With “Kveikur” on the other hand, the group leaves behind most of the minimalistic tendencies, and turns the volume up on the once subtle, experimental nuances, until they become distorted and in your face. The group who once graced the Vanilla Sky soundtrack with the their very swan like “Njósnavélin (The Nothing Song)”, come through with "Brennisteinn", the albums dusky and publicly abrasive opening track, which sounds like it’s on fire!
The best way I can describe this album is assertive. Though there exist some very dark turns, I don’t think it’s necessarily a gloomy or aggressive LP. I feel as though the word "aggressive" is not the best lead for describing it overall, seeing as though the term might automatically be associated with anger or angst. It’s kind of like Sigur Rós is speaking up, cranking the notch on preexisting details, opposed to doing a full 360, approaching them with utter and complete angst. With songs like “Ísjaki (Iceberg)”, the group seems to be more proud then aggressive. The glimmering track is filled with stampeding drums, howls and coos, a stand up vocal performance and slightly abrasive string instrumentation, but this does not add up to "aggression". Instead, it creates something that feels more like a declaration or statement. The same feeling is conveyed within the sonorous layers of "Stormur (Storm)" and "Rafstraunmur (Electric Circuit)", which give the listener a very bold vibe, which is not at all anything threatening.
When the group does reach for that really moody aesthetic, though, they do achieve this goal, most notably on the album’s title track "Kveikur (Candlewick)", which would sound pretty abysmal if it didn’t take off into the air with it’s tribal drums and shrieking guitar distortion. There are also times on the album that feel kind of hopeless, yet, they never seem to continue on this way, “Yfirborð (Surface)” swelling into an emotionally charged, gently pulsating and cymbal crashing cry of hope. Interestingly enough, this is brought to an end by a warping effect that sounds as if a nuclear missile were taking off. Still, among all of the loudness, Sigur Rós caters to those who prefer simple ambiance over a great deal of layers with album closer "Var (Was)", a reflective piece consisting of easy going strings, strategically placed piano keys, a piano rhythm, and fleeting vocal sounds.
Personally, as much as I did enjoy the instrumentation, my ears didn’t seem to get along with the some of Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson's slightly out of pocket vocals ("Yfirborð" in particular), which are great for those who don’t mind a bit of abrasion in certain aspects. The vocals in the man’s falsetto are indeed raw, so if this is a quality you favor or can get past, by all means, check this thing out. In a sense, Kveikur is a stunning example of what you can find within yourself if you just speak up a bit.
- De` Von
”Bláþráður (Thin Thread)”