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Sixth studio album by the critically-acclaimed Icelandic post-rock band. Debuting at #8 in the UK Albums Chart, the record has been described by bassist Georg Holm as being slightly more electronic-sounding than their previous releases.
If the release of Sigur Rós’ last studio album, Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, led people to fear that the band’s days crafting sky-scraping epics might be coming to an end, Valtari is going to worry them even more. While that 2008 album led off with the prancing Gobbledigook and seemed to edge towards a more open, commercial sound, Valtari heads off in the opposite direction, into a world of often percussion-free ambience.
Its gestation was lengthy: Valtari’s roots lie in a 2003 collaboration with the 16 Choir that took place at London’s Barbican, and recording in fact started back in 2007, when they decided to pursue the concept of an entirely choral album. But other projects, and a lack of a clear goal, prevented them from making significant progress for a while, and it was only last year when they began to assemble the album from the various experiments that they’d conducted over the previous four years.
The results – eight songs totalling almost an hour – are probably the band’s quietest since 1999’s groundbreaking Ágætis Byrjun, and consequently their most perplexing. Yet, in some ways, this is one of their most beautiful releases in a career that has never been short of elegance.
Much of the album sounds like it’s made up of what would, in previous years, have only qualified as the introductions to songs. Opening track Ég anda takes an age to get underway, reverb-heavy guitars chiming quietly before Jónsi’s distinctive falsetto floats in over what sounds like an army of music boxes, and, though Rembihnútur lifts off towards its end in a familiar fashion, drums are largely limited to distorted electronic pulses and there are none of the earth-scorching effects that have previously characterised similar moments.
In fact, the album’s final three tracks are all instrumental, but fortunately they’re all rather bewitching, especially the atmospheric title track which creeps with the grace and speed of cooling lava. Varðeldur, meanwhile, offers a fragile charm reminiscent of their former string section, Amiina.
The album’s highlight is Varúð, an elegiac, spectral hymn whose chorus ascends heavenwards in the traditional Sigur Rós manner, its sound becoming more and more saturated as it does so, and, for some, Valtari will lack similar climactic moments of release.
For those more patient, however, the album represents calm after a storm, and highlights how Sigur Rós remain as eager to challenge themselves as their audience.
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Top Customer Reviews
Eg anda, or 'I Breathe' is airy, joyful and acts as a warm invitation for the listener to enter into Sigur Ros' beautiful world. Ekki Mukk is a more melancholy and resigned expression yet just as immaculately delivered and produced. Varud is the most familiar and exciting track, offering a climax similar to the days of Glosili, the first true spine-tingling, hair raising moment of the LP.
The final five tracks are where Valtari really plunges into the darkest depths of human emotion, from ecstasy and elation to dark depression. Rembihnútur is a personal favourite, showcasing the bands' instrumental mastery before releasing into a more conventional but nonetheless beautiful chorus. Dauðalogn is angelic and graceful, taking inspiration I believe from music of the church. Varðeldur is a continuation of this; a come down from the elation experienced in its predecessor.Read more ›
'Riceboy Sleeps' is one of my favourite records, and upon hearing Valtari's first promotional single, Ekki múkk, I had high hopes that the new album would capture the extremely emotive atmosphere of the former CD. Thankfully, it did. As album opener, Ég anda, begins, Jónsi's trademark howling takes you away from the everyday, and inside yourself- in to an introspective trance fueled by the music. Strings, guitar, and what sounds like ringing bells all emerge from the silence, and the sounds of waves lapping and the beat of the drum which gets faster and faster all wash over you, and then you know; Sigur Rós are here.
The track melts abruptly in to discordant electronic droning, before it re-emerges with a crackle, as Ekki múkk. Strings stir and Jónsi mews in a pleading tone; the vocal swirling around the violin, creating a sense of space and weight despite the frugality on display. Then the piano rains down, and Jónsi's voice soars, and your heart-strings are well and truly pulled. Ekki múkk effectively utilizes Jónsi's voice in the most devastating way; he sounds like a wounded animal, or a whale, or a plaintive man crying out to the sky. Ekki múkk slowly dies down again as quiet as it came- with only the languid piano strokes, expertly timed, left to keep you company.Read more ›
Their latest offering however, has been a little different.
I would class it as a 'grower'.
Upon a first listen, Valtari seems completely unlike any previous Sigur Ros albums - although the major ingredients are all there (Jón Þór Birgisson's haunting falsetto, beautiful string sections etc.) they seem to have been mixed differently. The result is not the slap-in-the-face attack on the senses that previous albums provided. Rather, it just hums a little, tingling away at the back of your mind. It is initially not distasteful or unpleasant, it just is not what you expect. However, with perseverance and repeated listening (my preference is when I am alone in the car) you hear little snippets of what makes Sigur Ros music so great, and when you piece them all together it begins to make sense.
There is none of the bombastic, orchestral Post Rock-ness found in ( ) or Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, and there are no hum-alongs like Hoppipolla or Sæglópur.
But it grows and grows and grows. And you eventually find that you can't help falling in love with their music once again.
They may have changed direction slightly but it is under no circumstances a wrong turn.
It challenges you as a listener unlike any other Sigur Ros album, but like a difficult jigsaw, when you place the pieces in the right order, it is so satisfying.
Once again I find myself eager for their next commercial release, curious as to what they will provide their audience with this time.
(A note on Amazon delivery - once again they provided a good service. A price that can't be beaten, particularly as I live in Luxembourg. Good job all round)
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not a big fan of Sigur Ros yet thoroughly enjoyed this album. Maybe it's some Scandinavian other worldness , relaxing rhythms or a combination of both. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Andrew Foulds