have not released a studio album since 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
, which landed in our top 10 albums that year
. However, they remain very much in the here and now, thanks to various forms of pop culture. The band’s lead singer/guitarist, Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson, contributed to not one, but two
soundtracks, and launched a successful solo career. Oh, and the beautiful “Stokkseyri” from Riceboy Sleeps
(Jónsi’s album with partner Alex Somers) plays during Vince Howard’s final toss downfield in the Friday Night Lights
finale. Unfortunately, by the time that episode reached NBC and DVD, the song was no longer included. Thanks, contract stipulations and corporations!
The Icelandic quartet recently released a CD/DVD combo, Inni, and is finally returning from hiatus with a new studio album sometime next year. Interest that never truly waned seems to be kicking up in high gear again for the group, and what better way to look towards the future than to take a brief trip back to the past. Takk… is an interesting piece for retrospection. The music is as gorgeous as ever, as are the goosebumps that Jónsi and company forever inflict upon us. And there’s that song that continues to make its way into every trailer for movies that wind up getting nominated or win every Academy Award. Greatness belongs with greatness, and we’ll definitely get to “Hoppípolla” during our look back.
Sigur Rós can go ahead and claim the word “soundscape” as their own. As Takk… will attest to, not many other bands playing today can paint a picture with gibberish quite as effectively as this one can. With the shimmering string section that opens the album, you can see the houselights go down and the red curtain part, just as the lights shine across the stage. The broken-down music box of “Heysátan” closes the proceedings just as visually, just as effectively. There are even moments where you can hear the musicians in the studio, shuffling around as though they are backstage during a play. As glossy and bombastic as some of the tracks are, the quiet moments display the band at their most naked and intimate; reminding us that four mere men are behind the wheels of this often stunning machine.
The orchestral work that accommodates so much of Sigur Rós is in perfect working order throughout Takk… Take the haunting strings that slowly take over from the percussion towards the end of “Andvari”. The song seems to reach its end several times during those chilling, final three minutes, but it just keeps sweeping along; soft then stirring, and back to soft again. “Sé lest” finds the strings not overpowering, but joining with Jónsi’s ethereal vocals and timpani. These are merely two indicators of the importance of the orchestra section when it comes to Sigur Rós’ music. Stripped down, the music is still good, but compare “Hoppípolla” on Takk… and the version found on Inni sans horns and strings. There is no comparison.
In addition to the symphonies that just take Sigur Rós’ music into other (ahem) soundscapes, there’s the production work from John Thomas and the rest of the band. The march of “Glósóli” accompanying Jónsi’s impossibly high tenor feels as though it’s actually taking us somewhere. When the steps abruptly stop, we pause until they start up again. By song’s end, it’s Jónsi’s wailing guitar and Orri Páll Dýrason’s percussion that deliver us to wherever we were going. “Með blóðnasir” takes the music from “Hoppípolla” and transforms it into a workout for the rhythm section; fiddling with the original music by skipping over certain beats or adding brand new effects over them. It’s a modern day “track three into track four” evolution, like that of The Stone Roses’ “Waterfall” getting cut-up and becoming “Don’t Stop”.
It can’t be that surprising that “Hoppípolla” has popped up a few times during this look back. It is the centerpiece of the album and arguably (I repeat: arguably) the band’s finest four-and-a-half minutes. From the opening piano keys to the gradual build-up of the percussion, from Jónsi’s initial coos to his triumphant final cry, “Hoppípolla” is the musical equivalent of a life ending and an afterlife beginning. If you don’t believe in that, it’s, like, another emotional equivalent. It’s been used in promotions pertaining to the films Children of Men and Slumdog Millionaire, and even pops up in Cameron Crowe’s latest, We Bought a Zoo. Suffice to say, we’ll be hearing this song here and there for the rest of our lives.
Whether Takk… is Sigur Rós’ best effort is a moot point. If anything, the band proved that not only could they avoid the sophomore slump with their breakthrough, Ágætis byrjun, and then release a nameless album featuring nameless tracks, but that they could keep creating music with a predominantly made-up language, and we would continue to listen. In the words of Jónsi: “Og ég fæ blóðnasir/Og ég stend alltaf upp.”
No clue. Still awesome.