Sigur Ros: Valtari

    After a brief foray into more structured pop music, Icelandic-based Sigur Ros has finally returned to the shimmering soundscapes they captured so well in their early albums. Their latest release, Valtari, is another beautiful effort, gently swelling and subsiding, with frontman Jonsi’s falsetto soaring above piano, strings and soft electronic textures. It’s not catchy, but it’s easy music to sink into.

    In fact, Valtari is even less structured than the group’s 1999 classic Ágætis byrjun. On that album, Sigur Ros made their name with ethereal combinations of classical strings and aching melodies, all covered in bowed guitar and stretched out to such lengths that no song felt rushed. Though you can’t understand a single word (and some of the songs aren’t even in any language), it’s easy to hum along — the songs are too grand, too glorious, that you just can’t help yourself. Valtari draws on the same feeling, but instead of songs building to towering heights, the songs gather a little momentum, then draw back. The album blends together nicely, reaching its modest peak on only the third track “Varúð,” then slowly falling away until all that’s left is a haunting piano solo in “Fjögur Píanó” (which may translate to “Four Pianos”). Though as incredible as ever, Jonsi’s voice isn’t the focus on this album. In fact, by the time you’ve reached the title track in the second half of the album, Jonsi has stopped singing altogether.

    There’s a lot less happening on Valtari than on its predecessors, but it works to the band’s advantage. Though their recent music’s flirtation with pop music has been. (8/10)

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