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Volume 68, Issue 60, Monday, November 18, 2002

Arts & Entertainment

Sigur Rós' luminous tone lifts latest work

By Jonathan Bruder
The Daily Cougar

An Icelandic girl named Sigur Rós sprouted under a day-sleeping sun. In 1994, that girl's big brother Jonsi Birgisson had the honor of marrying her to music by starting a band in her namesake. Eight years later, Sigur Rós has a new album named ( ) that is surprisingly appropriate for a mild Texas autumn.

Jonsi, Jón Pór Birgisson by birth, sings and plays guitar in the Icelandic quartet. Georg Holm plays bass, Kjartan (Kjarri) Sveinsson strokes the keys and Orri Páll Dyrason plays drums.

The band, despite a lack of name recognition, has scored several successes in the United States, including a prominently placed track on the soundtrack to the Cameron Crowe film Vanilla Sky. The band also won the prestigious 2000 Shortlist prize for new music, judged by a panel including Trent Reznor, Beck, Dave Grohl and Macy Gray. They beat out the now-seminal Air, Gorillaz and The Dandy Warhols.

The new album has the same spacious feel as the band's previous work, magnified by increased maturity. In 2000, Thom Yorke said after a tour with Sigur Rós that they were an inspiration to new Radiohead work, and hearing ( ), one finds the origins of Kid A-style vocals.

But the two bands can't be compared. Though they would likely have a similar fan base, Radiohead and Sigur Rós are apples and oranges.

On ( ), none of the songs have titles. This album comes ready-to-play, without the need to skip tracks. It starts slow and ends well, in a place better-laid in classical music radio's hour-long blocks than pop radio's whack-a-mole rotation. No track is less than six minutes long; the longest runs 13.

The post-rock element is perhaps the most interesting part of the album. Sigur Rós holds sway in glitterati circles, but functions underground as well. Before touring Europe with Radiohead, the band toured Europe with Godspeed You Black Emperor!, a band that is to post-rock what Parliament is to funk.

( ) uses lyrics in its classical crescendos to bring the ethereal music down to earth. The epic sequences are sometimes as hard as metal, without the growling.

Sigur Rós scores yet again with ( ). It is interesting, innovative and unlikely to offend. It is hard to avoid comparing the band to its homeland, where glaciers and volcanoes commune in a human soundscape.

I wonder what that little girl is up to.

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