Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sigur Rós - A Rough Guide

As much as I enjoy listening to music, I haven't often written about it
on the B-List.  To rectify this, I will start posting "rough guides" to
artists that I like a lot, but may not be that well known.  And to kick
things off, I'm going to feature a band that I only got into recently:
Sigur Rós.  The band comes from Iceland, home of Björk, The Sugarcubes
and Emiliana Torrini, among others.  A former workmate put me onto the

According to Wikipedia,
"Sigur Rós are an Icelandic post-rock band with melodic, classical and
minimalist elements."  The music is not easy to describe, but it is
often very atmospheric, laid-back and contemplative.  Other adjectives
people have used include: ethereal, eerie, melancholic, uplifting,
dreamy, and gloomy.  Music, like other art forms, is subjective, so not
everyone will react to it the same way.  The band's name translates to
English as 'Victory Rose', and is the name of the singer's young sister.

In addition to the standard guitar, piano, bass and drums, the band uses
instruments not normally found in rock music, such as a bowed guitar,
glockenspiel, flute, brass, Hammond organ and even a toy piano.  The
band is often accompanied by a string quartet.  The singer uses a
falsetto voice, and sings in Icelandic or a variation of gibberish that
has been given the name "Hopelandic".

A couple of years ago the band released an interesting music DVD called
"Heima" ("at home"), which documents a special tour of their native
Iceland.  Basically the band went around to various places around
Iceland and performed free concerts for the locals.  The DVD shows some
of the unique landscape of Iceland, as the band performs in some of the
more remote and unusual locations on the island.  Clips from "Heima"
will be used as the basis for this rough guide.

There's a website for the DVD, which contains more information about the
tour and the DVD:

The links in the guide are to movies on YouTube.  If the links are
blocked, try the "Video" link on the Heima site to view the trailer:
You can also select some background music by the band while visiting
that site.

Now, on to the "rough guide" ...

1. Starálfur
This clip is from "Heima", and is representative of the band's style and
tempo.  The girls in the string quartet are actually part of a band in
their own right (Amiina).  The original version of the song is on the
band's second album, "Ágætis Byrjun".  The studio version also featured
in movie, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou".

2. Svefn-g-englar
Another song from "Ágætis Byrjun", this is a longer epic in a live
setting.  This version shows how the guitarist/singer uses a bow to
create some of the sounds.  The studio version is also featured on the
"Vanilla Sky" soundtrack.

3. Ágætis Byrjun
A live performance (from the BBC Electric Proms) of the title track from
the second album.

4. Glósóli
This is a single from the band's fourth album, "Takk...".  It's used
here as the background music for a trailer for the BBC series, "Planet

5. Vaka
This is a song from the band's third album "()", and the clip is an
acoustic version from "Heima".  Not long after filming, the valley where
the band performed was dammed and flooded to provide power for a new

6. Hoppípolla
This is the official music video for another single from "Takk...".

7. Samskeyti
An intimate, moving performance from the "Heima" DVD.  The original
version of this song appears on "()".

8. Von
This is a reworking of the title track from the band's first album.
The clip is also from "Heima".

Sigur Rós has just released a new album, which starts off a bit more
mainstream than the material featured in this post.  On later tracks
the band returns to its more familiar sound.

Coincidentally, you may have heard about impact of the financial crisis
on Iceland, e.g. see:
"Iceland Won't Default on State Debt, Premier Says"

The country's three largest banks have massive debts and the value of
the currency has plummeted.  This is disastrous for the citizens of this
remote island country: many have lost their savings, and the prices of
imports have skyrocketed.