There are certain days when escape is not an option, but certain pieces of music can achieve that same effect. Time and time again, over multiple albums and songs, Sigur Rós have proved themselves to be one of the few groups on the planet who can literally pick you up and put you in a completely different place from almost the moment you hit play. Sure, they don’t speak English, in fact, most of the time, they’re not speaking their local Icelandic either. But they create new languages through the sounds that they produce, one which I have often argued in intimate circles is the closest popular music is ever going to get to classical music without collapsing into its own grandiose sense of self. I’m unsure whether it’s the fact that they live in the snow-capped end of the Earth or Jónsi’s particularly alien falsetto or what, but ladies and gentlemen, this is it. You have officially reached the end of the line and the next step is heaven or oblivion. Listen very, very carefully.
A while ago, the band launched wrote a piece calling out the innumerable advertisers who had ripped off their trademark sound, and indeed large portions music, to sell everything from cars to tourism. Entitled homage or fromage, the piece very delicately pointed out the obvious similarities in some very big campaigns, like Sony Bravia, which recreated this particular track to push high-definition televisions. To be honest, I can’t really blame any of these companies for trying it on with the Sigur Rós aesthetic; it’s positively life-affirming. Anyone with half a brain about aspirational advertising would want this kind of thing soundtracking their telecommunications company, or their new dishwasher, it literally makes you want to get up and hug your TV.
There’s this amazing book by Patrick Süskind called Perfume (which was subsequently turned into a very bad movie) which details a European master of fragrance who eventually invents a scent so strong that it can force large groups of people to take leave of their senses. Of course, he has to kill a whole lot of beautiful dames to achieve this, which is not something I am suggesting Sigur Rós do when replacing their drum skins or anything, but it’s certainly a similar sort of thing. ‘Sæglópur’ is the most emotionally vibrant and utterly draining and totally awe-inspiring thing you could ever hope your computer spits at you on a dreary Saturday morning. Musically, it’s so accomplished that it often makes one wonder why they ever listen to anything else. The basic premise of the glockenspiel and piano motif is simple enough, but it’s what they do with it, especially once Jónsi’s voice enters, that is so very spellbinding. Crescendos, real ones, not the kind that are achieved just by pushing levels up in the mix, sections which seem somewhat incongruous but are actually thematically linked, properly arranged string sections which aren’t just there to add colour but actually create a whole separate painting…there is much here that it would take even the biggest music nerd weeks to unravel it all.
‘Sæglópur’ could probably sell the Islamic fundamentalism to Americans is used properly. It has that kind of power that is like punk on the opposite end of the continuum, which in essence also makes it punk. To consistently put out material at this level may be something fans have come to expect from this band over the years but stepping back from it, one can really appreciate how special that is. I’ll never be able to pronounce the song properly to anybody who asks about it, but I can just start rolling and it will do the work for me. It’s the iron ore of music. It’s that thing powering Iron Man’s body after he can’t use his vitals anymore.
Please excuse me for a moment.
I feel a sudden urge to go out and buy an expensive television.
Sigur Rós – ‘Sæglópur’
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