Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
(Beggars XL; 2008)
By Dom Sinacola | 17 July 2008
For just over seven minutes, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust may be the most wonderful, jubilant listen you’ve had yet this year, and, within those two songs, Sigur Rós’s fifth proper album plants the most exciting, empirical stipe of artistic direction the band has forged in over six years or so. The elation doesn’t last, of course; afterwards, with “Góðan daginn,” the organism hits a brick wall at full speed, its fleshy cogs seizing up suddenly, but consider how much glorious space the band covers in those opening two tracks. “Gobbledigook” is the single’d tease, as much Akron/Family as it is KC and the Sunshine Band (don’t forget that previously mentioned chord progression from “Gray Street” or obligatory votes for Animal Collective), nudity just an obvious showboating of its economical glee when what glistens so magnanimously is its whimsy. That “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” follows with an old-timey radio soundbyte and another four-on-the-floor stomp is obvious, sure, but check the territory the band’s mining, all that glockenspiel, panning strings mixed generously with Jónsi’s typical coo: this is banked money for the band but now stripped of metaphysical anxiety, of that cosmic weight, careful in its building and breaking but still so loose. Like post-rock idols left to an ice floe, a pop band is what naturally evolves next, the same catharsis and grand prostheses of life’s harsher ills expressed in less heavy-handed ways; if only Sigur Rós could be this new, organic band forever.
They obviously can’t and by the third track this dream of mine is dead. The bloated numbers (“Ára bátur” and “Festival,” logy as a means of tension, all purpose but no ecstasy) were always a given, despite my elevated hopes, and the trivial insurgence of the English language into the band’s repertoire would never amount to more than what “All Alright” ends up being—a barely discernible slice of the English language, soporific and hushed, set to a mattress of clouded piano dimples and rising horns—which is boring and a listless, crushing mood to close the set within. But even when the band retries the same spectacles that made them famous, the wallop is guarded so closely—by pauses, by a bowed electric guitar sustained an extra moment, by a briskly halted tom—that the sentiment is totally lost. The very essence of the band, when simply left to run through the motions, seems to completely white out the band, replaced by hints of something but mostly nothing. This means that Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust is effortlessly pretty, but it’s also just a transitional album, just that, a fork in the road exploited but never really embraced.
What’s worse, I shit you not, is that the band has never sounded so precious. What passes for warmth in “Fljótavík” is just the shallow stuff of Amiina-bred melodrama, flagging grandeur made intimate only because Jónsi sings on the verge of tears; the following “Straumnes” is whispering ambience seven years too late to do anything but just seem cradled and super serious. Instead, “Illgresi” works because its pulses, its strings and acoustic downbeat, intuit a soft, supple cadence in an atypically subdued vocal instead of emphasizing the most obvious touchstones of the band’s usual performance. “Við spilum endalaust” is up on its feet without a red carpet, soaring mostly on horns and roaring guitars, practically anthemic without any qualification—bare and impatient, the salient opposite of the group’s ten-minute epics.
Rest assured that the band is half full (starting to embrace what their band should probably be) instead of half empty (worn out hacks) and that even the most sagging capitulations between what they were and what they might always be still ring with some staggering sense of pride and accomplishment in that popular entity, birthed on its own terms, of Sigur Rós -dom. Maybe Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust is just a long act of forgetting, letting go of some nostalgia and formula, putting aside those aspirations of being the biggest band in the world after already being declared the biggest band in Iceland. It doesn’t sound like it, I know, but they’re humbling; they’ve still got Legion in them, that mess of folk apocalypse waiting for good headphones, making Arcade Fire fans to last generations, but at least the exorcism’s begun.