Sunday, 24 March 2013

Track Review: Sigur Rós - Brennisteinn

Truth be told, I always concern myself - probably more than I care to imagine - over an album released after such a short duration from the previous record. We haven't even passed a full [Gregorian] calendar year yet, and already news of a new album by Icelandic three-piece (yep, no longer do we bless the almighty chilly once post-rock giants as a four-piece following keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson's departure) Sigur Rós is before us. Kveikur is the new name,we not only will be introduced to, but also will hopelessly try to pronounce in as fair and accurate a verbal manner as possible. With it, the lead single from the nine-track LP comes in the shape of Brennisteinn, also the accompanying name to the three-track EP many concert-goers already have (or will be getting) their hands on after the band announced free copies of the release will be given to those attending the North American leg of their 2013 tour. So aside from an extension of tour legs and the decrease in band members sadly by one, does this album change or add anything to Sigur Rós' sound, some ten months after the moderately satisfying but nothing captivating, Valtari?

Well, surprisingly yes. To those who have been listening in blissfully-visage, half-open gazes to the likes of Ágætis Byrjun or () for the past ten-or-so years - or simply those who just haven't bothered checking out their full-length debut, Von - this'll certainly feel, or at least sound, a little weird to begin with. Gone are the laced, cloudy streams of dream-like baroque instrumentals and electronically-crafted textures. In its place steps a Sigur Rós we haven't experienced since their debut first came to light in the commercial Western World of music listening habits. There are of course the gracious and quite considered use of synthesizers, but this time the sounds are more rougher, more darker and a far shade less blissful than previous. The textures crunch and squeeze their way in-between the sharp, drone-heavy flanger of electric guitars, drums coming off weightless in their padded hits, but deep in bass that it comes off rather subterranean as opposed to lofty sailing across the landscape we've been so accustomed to. Jónsi's vocals too flicker back to what we'd expected from Von - tones conjuring a mix of cautious hesitance and delicate floating between percussion that gains all the clutter-clatter that the tie-in crash of cymbals and synths further add to the music's intensity. This is of course not all doom-and-gloom monolingual - the music soon brightening, but not in a way that drifts back to what we've been used to. There's some hinted echoes of violins, some more-rhythmic use of electronics, and the bass feels slowly more and more melded into the overall atmosphere of the track.

Atmosphere. That's a crucial pointer I'll end this brief review on, because as far as I'm concerned - while the Icelandic trio may not be pushing envelopes with their instrument choice, the way the sounds come together and mold what is a darker and, dare I say it, sinister vibe about the track - atmosphere of this magnitude, suggests this will be no less than the yin to Sigur Rós' established yang. It's a sound, and an idea, that as noted I haven't experienced since the band's debut. So to see this coming back - but now with a much finer attention to detail in terms of the synthesizer patterns and textures in processed instrumentation - does leave me wanting more. Ideally, it would have been two thumbs up out of a possible two, had the following two tracks of the EP been as captivating and capable of drawing me in. But for the time being, it sets up what will be an intriguing wait for me and many a Sigur Rós listener. Kveikur is out on the band's new home, XL Recordings, on June 17th.