Approaching 20 years together making music, Icelandic ambienteers Sigur Ros have gone in a somewhat more subdued, but nonetheless swelling and shimmery direction for their latest album, entitled Valtari. Percussion turns up far less in this collection than on Takk or ( ), but because of this, when it does make a subtle appearance in the latter half of the two opening tracks, its presence is perhaps more deeply felt; particularly alongside piano chords pressed just so and vocals that could fill auditoriums (“Ég Anda,” “Ekki Múkk”) . The swelling late-song climaxes are still there (“Varúð”), this is a Sigur Ros album after all, but they are some of the smallest late-song swells from the group in years. Throughout the record the two constants are singer Jónsi’s voice, about which much ink has been spilled but somehow not nearly enough, and a somewhat bashful piano.
The strings and drums and assortment of electronic sounds that complement those two main forces sway slowly around but rarely try to overtake them, like nighttime tree branches rustling along with the toads and crickets. The result is an adeptly crafted romance between voice and piano that will leave a listener’s stomach inexplicably tied in knots throughout Valtari. The phenomenon feels much like the one experienced by first time opera-goers who, perhaps not fluent in the language, are nonetheless overwhelmed by the emotions expressed. What’s more difficult to comprehend: Jónsi’s heavenly falsetto, or the fact that Sigur Ros, on an album comprised of long, slow songs, nearly as devoid of drums as they are the English language, still manages to connect so powerfully?
[Download: “Varúð”, “Dauðalogn” // Check Out: Lemonade’s Diver, Zulu Winter’s Language]