on 10 September 2015
I feel compelled to leave my first Amazon review since Valtari is presently Sigur Ros' least celebrated album; I however believe it to be their most remarkable piece of work to date. It is most similar to () in style and yet exceeding it in almost every way. The lack of popularity is due, I think, to the fact the music is dramatically stripped of both vocals and percussion, particularly in the latter half. However, this intentional move has laid the way for some of the most beautiful music created in recent times - the ethereal sound is suitable both for background listening and intense absorption, it is also the perfect album to drift away to, not because it is 'boring' as some have labelled it to be, but because it is so immensely relaxing and satisfying, and yet so vibrant. It is just that good.
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. Valtari shows the reminiscence of a tortured soul floating in a vacuum, listening to it brings out emotions like no other, it is beautiful torture, it pulls at the outer fathoms of your emotions, and above all it is genius. Four Pianos, the closing track, is one of the most deeply saddening things I have ever listened to, ending the album of a heart breaking but none the less extraordinarily enchanting note.
This album will not blow you off your seat, but will make you reflect on some of the most powerful emotions music is capable of making you feel. It is a masterpiece, and I would strongly recommend this to anyone regardless of background, musical knowledge or genre preference. Valtari is an album which transcends all of that.
on 29 May 2012
On Valtari, Sigur Rós meld the melancholy introspection of 2002's '()' with the dense, classically charged electronic ambience of 2009's 'Riceboy Sleeps' album, by Jónsi and Alex. The result is an emotive hour of bittersweet abstraction;, shimmering piano keys, weeping strings and otherwordly singing invoke conflicting and complex emotions of joy and sadness all at the same time.
'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.
Those piano keys are then warped, transmuted, as if placed under water, for track three, Varúð. Perhaps the most accessible of all the songs on Valtari, and therefore perhaps the least complex, Varúð is like Sæglópur from 'Takk...' meets Festival from 'Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust'. Jónsi cries along with the strings in the chorus, 'Varúð!' like a siren, an alarm gone off- and then the choir kicks in, and the drums come, and the song builds and builds- a giant warning 'this song is about to explode', and of course, it does, in classic Sigur Rós style (think track 8 from () ). A deafening cacophony envelops your brain as all the instruments and all the voices mingle under the crash of the drum.
Track 4, Rembihnútur, is a masterpiece. Gentle piano keys cascade haphazardly, like melting icicles, or a light rain. Jónsi coos and a barrage of sunny strings wrap the piano in a coherent texture; all the elements come together to form an extremely beautiful fabric of sound; a hopeful, magical sound, like the sun breaking through clouds. Then Jónsi sings a straightforward pop song, as the piano falls across his words and a joyous chorus kicks in; drums beating, a march- water breaking through rock, the sun shining brightly, rain coming down heavily. A huge range of wonderful images and emotions are evoked and stay with you long after the track resolves, squeaking like little birds waking up.
The sounds of lapping waves returns for Dauðalogn, and over the waves comes a funereal choir. This is a dirge, and Jónsi wears his emotion on his sleeve; the chorus picks up as he sings delicately, sadly, and the ecclesiastical accompaniment wail solemnly like grief stricken angels. Dauðalogn sees Jónsi sing his most emotional song yet as his voice cracks and weeps- you can hear his complaint. The track moves perfectly in to Varðeldur, with its dancing, meandering piano keys and glockenspiel, and Jónsi's charming mewing (reminiscent of Untitled #1 ('Vaka') all brought together by an operatic lullaby later in the piece. The whole album floats in this way, above the mundane, above the Earth even (the lack of groundedness may be off-putting, to some) in an insular, subjective space where a sense of religiosity and comfortable isolation prevail.
The two songs together work extremely well; and in fact the whole album is surprisingly consistent, considering the sketchy process it went through before it was compiled. Valtari feels like one hour long song of multifarious moods and shifting landscapes of sonic texture (again, reminiscent of '()' ). It requires repeated listening to grasp just how dense it is. There's very little black and white in this album, only shades of grey- the music molds to your mood, to your state of mind and your surroundings; they all mutually enliven one another. If you listen to this when you are sleepy, it will knock you out (especially the latter three instrumental tracks; Fjögur píanó will gently, exquisitely lull you in to a deep, restful sleep). If you listen to this in the rain, it will be about rain. If you listen in the sun it will be about the warm summer's day and how the light dances on the leaves.
Like any work of art, it is fundamentally subjective; it requires your attention and interaction if you want to feel the benefit of listening- otherwise you will find it boring, too ambient, too opaque. Despite the album's density (hence, 'Beast'), I find it surprisingly transparent- this is an album, like Riceboy Sleeps, that adapts to the listener- it is whatever you make of it, it is whatever you feel at the time you are listening, and for that reason it is endlessly listenable, always unfolding in new, and beautiful ways.
PROS- Gorgeous, richly textured ambient music as moving as any Sigur Rós have ever made.
CONS- Amongst the band's least accessible music; some fans of the previous two albums may be disappointed at the new direction, and so will people who just can't connect with the more musical (ie ambient) atmosphere of the album. I think the album is also slightly heavy on the instrumentals at the end (they should have spread out them out evenly).
4.5/5- Highly Recommended
on 20 October 2012
Having been a great fan of Sigur Ros for a large part of the last decade, the prospect of any new album release from this quartet of wonderful musicians is something which I relish with great anticipation, and the first listen of their previous material never fails to disappoint.
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)
on 10 June 2012
This is Sigur Ros' 6th studio album and (in my opinion, of course) their 5th best. Note that I didn't say it is their second worse as that would be to project Valtari in too negative a light which I don't want to do because I think it is a fairly good album. Yet I can't help feeling slightly disappointed by it. Valtari lacks the creativity which has been an abundant feature on their last four albums with none of the songs reaching the extraordinary heights those four albums achieved.
Tracks 1 to 5, which are the ones that contain vocals, despite sounding lovely, simply do not have enough melodic and harmonic invention of which we know the band are capable of. The three remaining tracks are instrumentals. Track 6 seems like a companion peace to the preceding track. Track 7, the title track, is, I think, the album's least successfull track, it being a little too ambient and too long with not enough happening. Although track 8 is the better of these three non vocal tracks, I think these tracks pale in comparison to the vocal tracks.
Valtari is all very pleasant and pretty but Sigur Ros can do pleasant and pretty in their sleep. It is Sigur Ros on auto pilot and, try and I might, I rate it no higher than 7/10. So....3 or 4 stars? Well, we have waited four years for this which has been the longest gap between Sigur Ros' releases and I expected better so I'm going to plump for 3 stars.