Sunday, August 5, 2012

Live Review - Sigur Ros - Valtari

This is a pretty different album than your other live reviews

Yeah, I guess so. When I was first getting into post rock in like... 2005-2006ish I guess, maybe a bit earlier, I was really huge into Sigur Ros. I'd listen to them like, nonstop. I have no idea how many times I've played Agaetis Byrjun but I think the number is likely only topped by Radiohead.

When Meo suo etc came out I was really excited, and I liked the album quite a bit, but the magic was sort of lost, I'm not sure exactly why. I was getting more into Japanese post rock and this new Sigur Ros just seemed too poppy, too docile. It wasn't like I started liking them less, I just gradually lost the habit of listening to them so much, and the previous albums got less attention too.

So this explains why Valtari has been out for months now and I haven't heard it yet. I just wasn't excited for more Sigur Ros, even though like, Matryoshka is very similar and I'd probably like, chop off a toe or something hyperbolic to hear their new album now. Can't really explain it, especially 'cause now I am actually pretty excited for new Sigur Ros, as evident by this blog post and all. So uh let's get to it!

1 - Ég anda
Starts with inhalation, choral halo going on here, it is very nice. Strings warming up is nice too. This definitely feels intro-ish but unlike many past albums they are going with a full-length track from the get-go, which is fine by me. Now very subtly things have begun to introduce a minor theme and there's a bit more of a refractory sheen on the strings, this is definitely... building, growing. And then oooh, that is a nice switch up to this rusty jangly acoustic sound, rarely does this aesthetic sound so happy, the backing on this now is so post rock man it seems like it is out of the book of post rock. Really warm sound coming out now, swallowing up the individual sounds, kind of a breathing pattern. First vocals, is this in Icelandic or Hopelandic? Either way it is quite beautiful, a wistful longing sound that doesn't feel lost... Now the drums are coming up, are they working for a climax in the last two minutes? This whole track has been very forward moving while still seeming very "content" with each development. And now there's this wonderful exposed feel to the vocals and the sound, a hollow ringing in the high register, and then this... wow, that workshop sorta toy sound right into this subsonar noisy haze, this is quite unexpected, I love it. Never have they gone quite so staticky or rumbly, this is like an aural blur. *

2 - Ekki múkk
This was the lead single, so I've heard it a few times before, but not recently. I love the quivering strings at the beginning. It's like, this great mix of anticipation and paradoxical perpetuity. Vocals are like, elf-baby moans, classic Sigur Ros really. I like the descending feel on the second vocal track, and this shift to a very isolated choir sound with the bells, it's all very serene. AND OH MAN, the transition at about 2:30, I can't even put that into words, that is a full on audio-bloom. Now we get that wonderful sense of a dedicated, plodding movement, very determinedly forward but also full of moments of hesitation. And again, a minute later, it just bursts open again. The vocals are unexpectedly rhythmic on this one, a lot of this wonderful forward movement comes from that. The vocal part has a melody that really wouldn't seem out of place in any other band if it was like twice as fast, lol. It works well here. It'd a good adaptation of what they learned while making more poppy music now infused back into the ambient sorta stuff. The low piano chords are great, the barely asynchronous muffle tone of them works so well, makes me think of ol' Do Make Say Think. The way this track just fades out is quite nice too, the same sort of plodding forward momentum now heading into that ol' reddening sun. Solo piano chords with the creak of the pedal all mic'd up... is this like, a love letter to old post rock? Very dreamlike and measured without preciseness, just graceful, not even the hint of the suggestion of rush. S+

3 - Varúð
This very echoed and underwater sound seems a bit out of character for Sigur Ros, feels like it begs to be twisted into a ASMZ song. And the violins sound like ASMZ, too, like glass on ice. The vocals are pure Sigur Ros though, very expressive of a inexpressible melancholy, if that could make sense. Wow, the swell at ~1:20 is chills tier, as is this successive swell, as are these piano notes, and that rickety bass I swear they stole from Montreal, if you get me. Now the song has really settled into a nice groove. I think though if I can have an early complaint about this album that I hope will prove to be unfounded is that they don't make songs song-y enough now. Hmmm I'll get back to this. The swells were nice again at ~3 min, and now we return to this underwater tone with the vocals children-choirized. Oh man here we go, give me that post rock build up, I know you have it in you. Here comes the Biscuit Hammer. Great drums, great strings, but it all hinges on... Gotta close my eyes for this one... This is sonic heaven. So noisy! So bombastic! Good ending. Vocals at the end here with the little shivering strings is very haunting, good job. Sounds like V. Snares could drop some breakbeats on this, lol. But yes, quite nice, good post rock buildup bombast sorta ending with nice interesting beginning. S

4 - Rembihnútur
Iiiiiiinteresting... Very noisy, very dark, oh wow, this piano is wonderful here. Great job there, where could this be going? Lovely little crystal notes, vocals descending in like banshees. And then these chords, oh man, I love this sort of construction of sound, the rumble of that bass contrasting with the trilling of the violins. And then the arhythmic stuff, very cool, frozen over toy shop is being animated sorta feeling. I like this violin melody they hint at, but maybe because they're only hinting at it? Oh wow, nice transition at ~2:10. I love these breathy midrange vocals and the contrast between churning and very light elements in the background. The whole thing feels like it's spinning. Oh man, 3:20 has a great burst of energy, this has that marching into a new dawn sort of grandeur that Takk... often had. Whole clan of people heading off into the sunset, you can see them trailing for miles behind, maybe an elephant, you know the image. I like how it gets more and more crunchy and plodding as we approach the ending, and now it's sort of just, deconstructing itself. Nice, very nice. *

5 - Rembihnútur
Another sorta noisy beginning with a really heavy glow. This rings down in the stomach space while other multivocal stuff they do is more in the head. This is pretty interesting here now... Seems sort of eulogizing? I get that feel at least. Some sort of clouds bursting moment near 2 min, I like it, angels circling over head in some big sorta... gentle cloud cyclone etc, I dunno. A deeply naive portrait of death. And now we return to earth a bit, the vocals here are very nice, he is displaying a sort of mature restraint, there's nothing show-offy or even naively and humbly reaching... This is pure focus on sound, on having a track that is filled with a very specific colour of sound. It is a dusky golden-gray. Oh wow at 5 minutes they bring in this absolute halo of a vocal part, it is almost painfully delicate. And now a sense of washing things back in on themselves, very nice, again, very mature and composed. Good ending, nice shimmering strings. S+

6 - Varðeldur
Oh great transition there! Great opening to this one too oh wow this piano here, this is something very precious. The warmth in the low register has been so consistent through this whole album that I barely even notice it, it has "settled into me". I still love this piano part, and the vague buzzing sounds and effects work wonderfully with it. Otherworldly lullaby stuff. And oh wow, this new melody introduced on some sort of xylophone, that works wonderfully too. This quite a minimalistic track, each time I think we're going to get into something really meaty it pulls back and merely adds another element. It works great. Ah, the super high register vocal part from the previous song is back, this is sort of a skeleton of the previous song in a lot of ways. I just noticed this is tagged as "rock" in my media player, that is uh, hilarious at this point. These sort of... glitchy moaning noises in the mid range? What are they? They are very fleeting and intriguing. Oh man, just the smallest variation on the piano melody can leave me quaking at this point. And now the elements back out, just leaving this sort of little bird piano melody just flitting about. Great. S+

7 - Valtari
Title track, get hype. Hmm, interesting start, odd sort of contrast happening here, each element seems out of place when considered but it all works when nothing is specifically examined. I'm really curious about the origin of those sounds, they really capture a strange sort of wood machinery aesthetic. There is some feeling of tension here, of unresolved things. Now we move from that setting to something very icy but uh not like Rozay's watch I mean but like winter depths sort of thing. Ah, and then we reintroduce the original sounds but include the one "discovered" in that interlude, interesting take on song structure. Some of the sounds in the highest register sound really despair-y and like personal apocalypse stuff like flashbacks to downtime in the middle of GYBE songs. I don't even know what to think of the little melody here, the dual descent sort of structure makes it very sad indeed. In fact the whole song feels like it's sinking somewhat, very resigned, very sorrowful. And wow the rumbling in the low end, that's a whole other level on these sorta feels. This is huddling for warmth music. This is an old church where the snow's blown in. This is a ghost of a ghost. And wow again this feeling of self-deconstruction, it is pretty chilling. This is two songs in a row now without traditional Sigur Ros sort of vocal backbone, interesting. I think I grasp fully the idea of this album now, but we'll see with the last song too. At any rate this is track is worthy of the album name. *

8 - Fjögur píanó
Wow, I like this beginning. The transition from absolute distance to absolute intimacy, beautiful. Again another very simple piano melody provides the backbone. This could actually end up being just piano now that I think about it. I think I'd be okay with that. It's almost like they deliberately avoid any melody too solid or tantalizing for fear of over-focusing the audience. In fact I think that's exactly the idea. Interesting, interesting. I'll get into this later I guess. But yeah this looks like it's piano alone, meaning the last "traditionally" sung utterance was way back on uh track 5. Oh wait here come some strings and wow, what strings at that. Like descending from deep space and heaven at once. Again good contrast between bass and violin in the strings. And hmm what is happening near the end here? Really full sound in the midrange that I can't even identify... Aha, and then the hint of a vocal part, the piano now fading out at last, and wow those strings more skeletal and fragile than even ASMZ would play them, just absolute needles. A good ending. S

So this wasn't really a post rock album as much as an ambient album, really

Yeah, that was a big thing. It was like, instead of going into each song with a sort of "post rock" song structure based around a melody that they then make beautiful via tone and dynamics and such, they started with the tone and sorta just let it ride out with any sort of melody or structure it wanted.

The interesting thing, though, is that when most ambient artists operate like this they have something more literal in mind when they think "tone", like, they often literally start with just a pure tone and start working around that. They can construct these sort of sonic blends much more methodically because they work not with instruments and voices but with just sound itself. Sigur Ros gets a sound and then has to sort of "assign" the instruments to it, which leads to this weird ambiguity between pure tonal landscape and actual song. Sometimes this is really cool! But other times I found it just sorta frustrating. Like I kept wanting a melody or a buildup to like, actually go somewhere. That sounds really plebeian but I have no trouble listening to stuff that, from the beginning, make no illusion that they'll do anything besides shift between some chords.

The feeling I get with this Sigur Ros album is that it's more the sonic materials that could be used with some blueprint of song structure and melody to get, basically, Agaetis Byrjun. This sort of abstraction of song feel away from the song itself is very very interesting but in the mindset of "oh man I love Agaetis Byrjun" it seems incomplete. Maybe in another mindset it could feel like the hints at something much bigger and grander than Agaetis Byrjun are even better than realized. The potential certainly is there, the restraint and maturity displayed on every sound on this album can't be overstated. Do I miss the sort of hopeful naivety that made Agaetis Byrjun so magical? Sure, but I also want to reward these efforts into a more rich and sophisticated sound.

I feel like I might go in circles if I try to elaborate further. The bottom line is that Valtari is a very nice ambient album that might trick you into thinking it's more than just ambient, and thus sounds something less than ambient. The first few tracks are closer to the traditional Sigur Ros mode but feel like they're missing a climax or melody or something to really make them memorable. The latter half settles more into this mode of pure ambiance and thus might be considered more of a success, I dunno.

Anyways they'll keep growing and defining their sound. They followed up their poppiest album with this, which is way closer to Stars of the Lid than Animal Collective, so who knows where they'll go next. I don't want to judge too definitively before I get more familiar with it but right now, like with Meo Suo etc I feel like the things the album brings to me I'd rather get from another source (Meo Suo with like... AnCo and this with... Rameses III's I Could Not Love You More is my current go-to ambient album) and that when I want something Sigur Ros-y I'm more inclined to listen to Agaetis Byrjun, ( ), Takk..., Hvarf-Heim, etc.

Other stuff

I finished Saki. Uh I'll talk about that in another post I think? Latest Kokoro Connect was pretty crazy. This show has the most forced drama I've ever seen, like, literally, they have this omnipotent character whose sole function is to make things more dramatic. I'm okay with it, though, because the whole show is basically premised around "how will these characters react to this bizarre dramatic situation?". It's just sorta surreal to have these pretty genuinely emotional moments and to think of how bizarre the circumstances of it occurring are. Taichi's speech about selfishly wanting to take on suffering himself was pretty well done I gotta say. But what's next for this show? I was sorta right that they'd have Taichi go and solve the three girls' problems and then the body-swapping would end, but I figured that would last the entire show. Are they gonna have like another arc or something now? The alien just screws with them in some different way? There's still a lot of stuff unresolved I guess, really, the solutions to the "active" problems are pretty band-aidy at the moment. Interesting, interesting...

Also I've been watching Siglemic stream Mario 64 now. It's great to just leave on in the background and check in on occasionally and such. Very very entertaining. I saw the new WR run and also the horrible carpet failure. I think it is a very good sign about our society that at least one person can make a living playing Mario 64.

Anyways that's it for this blog post I guess.

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