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Another side of Sigur Ros
on 9 November 2011
This double CD and DVD (or Blu-Ray) set features highlights from 2 live performances at London's Alexandra Palace in 2008. The 2 CDs carry 15 songs whilst the film features 9 tracks and some sometimes incongruous footage of the band including TV and radio performances and playing at tiny cramped clubs (a nice contrast to the cavernous Ally Pally).
Anyone who enjoyed the wonderful Heima DVD and the accompanying Hvarf/Heim CD will have seen a softer more acoustic side of Sigur Ros; quiet music in sublime and isolated locations across Iceland. The sound on those performances was often augmented by the band's touring string and brass sections making for a fuller but generally subtle sound. This album is different : it features the original 4 members of the band playing a very loud rock show and whilst there is subtlety (Sigur Ros would not be Sigur Ros without Kjatan Sveinsson's wonderful, melodic piano patterns) the abiding impression of this album is of the walls of sound created by Jonsi Por Birgisson's bowed guitar. This bowing technique allows Birgisson to create a seamless and constant sound much larger than that possible when the guitar is strummed and consequently the recordings give the impression that many more than 4 musicians are playing.
Another abiding impression of the album is that it does not appear to be over-dubbed in any way so what we hear is what the crowd would have heard at the concerts. It even seems to these ears that the producers of the album have elected to leave the mistakes in and there are a couple of quite glaring ones and a number of occassions when the band are slightly out of time. This is not in any way a criticism : this is music in the raw and as close to a live experience (warts and all) as i've ever heard on CD.
The film accompanying this set is shot in stark, grainy monochrome and is probably quite unlike any concert footage most viewers will have seen. The camera lingers on particular details - the bow moving across Jonsi's guitar strings (while Jonsi is singing) where most directors would have focussed on his face. Similarly we see Ori Pall Dyrason's bass drum and hi-hat pedals being unceremonoiously stomped on by Icelandic size 8s, we see tiny details of the band's clothing (Jonsi seems to be wearing a feather boa which the director is clearly fascinated by). It's not easy to watch and you might do well to get through it in one sitting but it is never less than exhillerating with the music louder and more abrasive than those who have only heard Sigur Ros on CD will be used to.
Thoroughly recommended but don't expect a repeat of Heima.