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coverpic flag Iceland - Full Moon 50 - 11/11/00

Sigur Rós
Ágætis byrjun
Fat Cat/Smekkleysa (a.k.a. Badtaste) Records/Krúnk

When I first heard the name Sigur Rós I thought he was a male artist. From Iceland, sure, but one person. Then I realised Sigur Rós were a band, a quartet, giving us one of this year's (it was released in Iceland last year) most stunning albums. Ágætis byrjun unveils mystic moves to surreal soundscapes, a slow dance through misty and moist nature. It's like elves playing and singing, telling tales of ancient origin.

Since the rise of the Sugarcubes Iceland has been on the map of modern rock. After the Sugarcubes were dissolved, Björk went major star. Now the younger take over, such as Bellatrix, GusGus, and Sigur Rós. It's hard to understand how they manage to be so creative on that small and volcanic-rocky island with exciting names popping out of nowhere Maybe it's the isolation that make people expand their minds? Anyway, listening to Ágætis byrjun will give you goose bumps. You'll turn from cold to warm and back again many a time. 10 tracks, 70 minutes of music. Imagine a young Pink Floyd. No. Imagine a mixture of Galaxie 500 and Smashing Pumpkins recreating Live at Pompeii. Stop. Picture what it's like being out at night by the quiet, totally black sea, or in a dark,dark forest. A full moon appears, and you spot some black birds over the sky. Your bare feet feel the moisted grass and the chilling rock. Skies in motion. Quickly. The ground quivers. Quietly. No-one else around but you and nature.

Ágætis byrjun (which is their 2nd/3rd album: Von came in 1997, and Von brigði/Recycle bin, a remix album, in 1998) is almost a masterpiece. 'Almost', because there are a couple of songs too many, and some songs are slightly too long. Slightly. That said Sigur Rós have to wide-stretch their imaginative layers of sound, which sort of work as meditative mantras. On-going. Fading in, fading out. Like waves, or a mild breeze. They've been compared to My Bloody Valentine, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai and Radiohead, but I don't quite agree. MBV, well sort of. GYBE, maybe slightly. Mogwai, not really. Radiohead, well, somehow. At least they've been touring with the latter, and, well, the title track is a bit Radiohead-ish. But to sense the real enigma of Sigur Rós you'd better listen to tracks like Starálfur, Ný batteri, Flugufrelsarinn, and the dazzling, gently pounding Hjartað hamast.

What can I say. A must if you're into atmospheric, no, stratospheric rock. Pathos, yes, but not overwhelmingly. The vocals of Jón þór are fairy-talic, the sober instrumentation (including harp and other strings, brass and an up-right bass) and the arrangements are therapeutic. Sigur Rós show elf power on an epic album!

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