Sunday, June 28, 2009

Album I enjoy #46: Hvarf-Heim by Sigur Rós

46. Hvarf-Heim by Sigur Rós

I have difficulty now remembering when I first became totally engrossed with Sigur Ros. I can remember the first time I heard them, sure, but I remember being initially off-put and almost bored. How and when they began to grow on me is a mystery, but the effects are totally clear. Hvarf-Heim is a collection of unreleased tracks and acoustic sets done by the band. It isn't rare for a band to put together an album like this to tide people over to the next LP and appease die-hard fans. What's more rare is finding myself among those die-hard fans, ready to proclaim the record as one of the best of 2007 and listening to it obsessively.

Earlier I had stated that Sigur Ros's latest album seemed to lack the subtlety and personal touch of their earlier efforts. Whether these qualities will re-emerge in later albums is to be seen, but the evidence is here that they got a great work out of those gifts while they had them. "Salka" might be the most by-the-book song they've ever produced, but the live environment really brings the guitar right in close to you. "Hljomalind" stays close to it's original name - "The Rock Song" - and hints at their innate talent to produce exciting music for all categories of fans. "Von" and "Hafsol", two songs originally heard on their forgettable debut LP Von are given new life and their potential is finally reached. Then, just when you're getting overwhelmed with the beautiful calamity and chaos of the latter's outro, the second disc begins.

Sigur Ros, despite projecting an attitude of a natural, raw, simplistic sound is actually pretty well grounded in production and effects. Even their live shows, often smaller affairs set in small towns, produce such sweet sounds with aid of layer upon layer of backing musicians and amplifier muscle. It's powerful, beautiful stuff, gigantic and majestic and sweeping. Even at their most minimalistic, like on several tracks on ( ), they beam such a superbness that can only come from unimaginable amounts of practice. It's what makes them so endearing, that endlessly deep, ocean of sound that washes over you so powerfully but so protectively. These acoustic sets strip that all away, however.

What they leave themselves with is a small amount of instruments, even less studio equipment, and acoustics that give the feel of field recording. What they make with all of this, probably not surprisingly anymore, is beautiful. Sigur Ros wisely picks fan favourites Staralfur, Agaetis Byjurn and Vaka, but then chooses more unknown songs like Samskeyti and Haysatan, simply because they know how well they could do them in this format. Vaka, however, stands out to me. God, I love that song.

  The final result is an excellent mix of the remixed familiar and newly-discovered future classics. It doesn't stray too far from their old territory, but can still surprise. It's a hefty record, full of big songs and emotions, but it brings you in softly, with a loving grace. It's radiant.

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