on 17 September 2005
I like albums that seem to suggest their own unique little universe, where the sound, style and overall presentation offer us a window into said universe, and a clue to further understanding the themes and motifs featured therein. Now, this may sound a little over-emotive to some, but I feel that Sigur Ros, with their strange soundscapes and beguiling use of instrumentation, really invite such reactions, with previous albums like Von and Agaetis Byrjun showing them to be one of the most unique, distinctive and imaginative bands currently at work.
Takk is no exception... continuing the sound of their second and third albums to create a musical amalgamation, meaning that the sound of Takk is both fragile and abrasive, with the songs continually shifting tempo and momentum to go from delicate ambience to epic, heart-breaking noise, and then back again. It's a strange album even by the band's previous standards, featuring a sound that is much more minimal and restrained than 2003's "brackets" album, with the more rock-like songs that made up the second half of that great work really being relegated in favour of more obscure sounds; with electronic pulses, blips and synthetic strings taking over from the distorted guitar noise and nonsense harmonies. Of course, the vocals will still be nonsense to those of us that don't speak Icelandic... though, it must be said that as with their last album, we still get the emotional intention of the songs through the evocative use of instrumentation, and the raw vocal power of lead-singer Jonsi.
As with Agaetis Byrjun and "brackets", Takk is an album best listened to from beginning to end, as ultimately, all the songs end up blurring into one another and thus, creating one long and lovely piece of work that moves forward and progresses naturally. Opening with the title track; an extended piece of atmospherics that blurs seamlessly into the lulled and intoxicating Glosoli - a song that couples a gentle music-box melody with sound effects that seem to suggest heavy boots marching on cobbles, as those angelic vocals croon ambient choral noise throughout - this could (and should) be seen as the next logical step forward for a band that have already pushed the musical limitations to breaking point. The album is continually interesting, especially when some of the songs end up incorporating pop-melodies and more melodic ideas, like those fantastic horn arrangements towards the end of Se Lest, or the orchestration that pops up throughout.
Saeglopur is one of the most stunning pieces of music that the band has ever created... beginning with some delicate piano and a cacophony of different processed vocal harmonies, it eventually metamorphoses into something much more volatile, with immense percussion and a wall of distorted guitars blazing away, as the lulled vocals continue without change. In terms of the overall mood and atmosphere that is created by the unexpected shifts in tempo, as the song once again breaks down into something more ambient towards the end, is easily on a par with the last two albums released by British band Talk Talk, principally speaking, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. It also reminds me of the last two Björk albums, Vespertine and Medulla, with many of the songs here, particularly that Eno-esque opening track, sounding like the missing instrumental takes of the largely a-capella Medulla (songs like Volkuro and Show Me Forgiveness really wouldn't sound out of place here), whilst it also brings to mind the more minimal moments of Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac records.
Track seven, Milano, has a similar structure to the song that came before, beginning with a gentle melody bolstered by the ambient-lite production, before the whole thing takes off into a more epic phase... only to pull back again towards the end for the lengthy and almost instrumental coda, which again takes off into the same epic territory moments before the song slows down to a close for the real climax. There's no 'half album quite/half album loud' concept here, the songs mutate from minute to minute, incorporating a variety of different musical textures that cover everything from rock, to jazz and classical, with hints of ambient-electronic music making itself known in the production and overall atmospherics, whilst you can even finds elements of world music, orchestral music and gospel. Gong is another highlight; a song that pushes the Talk Talk/Radiohead influence to it's fullest, whilst also building on the sound of the Sigur Ros albums that came before. There's an obvious jazz-influence in the use of percussion, which juxtaposes nicely with the subtle use of strings, the sweeping vocals and the great use of guitar.
The closing run of songs is great, continuing the sound of the preceding tracks and establishing a sound that is cohesive and continually interesting, with each song merging into the next, bringing to mind the sound and overall sense of emotional transcendence of their last album, which is still my favourite, despite both Agaetis Byrjun and this coming exceedingly close. The final song, Heysatan is transcendent beauty at it's most intoxicating, bringing this strange and beautiful little album to a close perfectly and, perhaps, pointing it's way forward to a new phase in the career of Sigur Ros.