Archive for November 26th, 2007


Sigur Ros – Hvarf-Heim

November 26, 2007

Iceland’s most popular band, and arguably most popular musical artist even in the wake of Bjork, has been prolific to say the least within the past few months. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that the band announced the release of their live film, Heima, following the band during a brief tour of their homeland, marked by excellent cinematography, live footage, and footage of the gorgeous nature of Iceland. This DVD will be released in December in standard two disk form as well as in a special edition with an art book. I’m going to try to pick up one of them eventually, because the movie looks wonderful. Illegedly, Sigur Ros have also entered the studio to create a new album this week, and more news on this will surely unravel in good time. But this month marks a new release as well, the double EP Hvarf-Heim.


The first of the two EPs, Hvarf, is essentially a small rarities compilation. This is the release most anticipated and useful for rabid fans and completionists, and for casual and hardcore fans alike, most of these songs are previously unheard. Only Von and Hafsol have seen previous releases, but in forms so different that they might as well be new songs. But Von has never seen a recording in this early form, and Hafsol was only released as the b-side of Hoppipolla and gets new treatment here. The rest have never seen the light of the day to fans, save during select live performances. This makes this EP quite a catch among obscure releases. We will have to wait a longer time for a true, expansive rarities collection, but Hvarf rounds up some of the particularly hard to find material spanning Sigur Ros’ entire career, making it surprisingly representative. It echoes of each of the bands four album eras, but each song holds its own succulent personality, as Sigur Ros songs always do.

Fans will recognize the opening Salka as very reminiscent of the bands third album, the untitled (), sporting the albums specific hopelandic lyrics and melancholy scope. It is hard to say why this was a b-side, as it is somewhat more accessible than some of it’s () counterparts. In any case, it is a lovely, achingly sad piece that more than deserves a proper recording like this. After Salka comes Hijomalind from the Agaetis Byrjun era. This is, like it’s predecessor, fairly accessible in terms of Sigur Ros’ style which usually confounds new listeners. Jonsi gives yet another lovely vocal performance, and his final verse notes scream for neighboring non-chord tones (ala Milano from Takk…) that never appear, and with their absence these chords find gradual resolutions within themselves by the passing of only a few brief seconds of beautiful vocal space. Small nuances like these are only cognisible to people already familliar with the bands pervious work, but half of the fun in listening to Sigur Ros’ work, as daunting as it is to become familliar with it, is finding the coalescence between songs that have no chronological connection.

After this comes the song that we hear on the Heima trailer. This collection, after all, is meant to accompany Heima in some way, and this song was perfect for the trailer. It starts off with haunting, mysterious bells and eventually it builds itself into the signature Sigur Ros wall of beautiful guitar, this time more brutal and loud than ever before. It is truly a unique Sigur Ros song. After this is a lush orchestral rendition of Von, this time crafted differently than it’s original version on the album Von so many years ago. But the real winner is the final song on this EP, Hafsol. The song starts with with a steady percussion of drumsticks on bass strings, and is complemented by the bands signature warm yet wispy guitar blanket that wraps the vocal harmonizations in a layer of dissonant fuzz. The coup de grace is the final touch of wintery grace with a string section plucking a simple harmonization to complement the songs comparatively complicated vocal melodies. It’s the best song on Hvarf, and a nice way to wrap things up.

In the Hvarf-Heim double EP, Hvarf is the asset and the one that you will want to listen the most closely to. These rarities deserved a proper release, and they got them. All is well that ends well.

The second Sigur Ros EP in this nicely packaged double release is Heim, what the band describes as an acoustic EP. Heim handpicks some of Sigur Ros’ most well known and popular songs and reworks them to contain mostly only simple percussion, piano, acoustic guitars and vocals.

The first thing that fans will notice is the song selection, which is, for the most part, very nice. On one hand, these songs are some of the bands best, but they are also the ones we have essentially been listening to the most since they were released and thus never really needed a new angle. But even overlooking this minor issue of taste, these renditions reveal nothing about the original songs in the first place, because the originals were mostly acoustic ventures anyway. The extent of the differences between the original and acoustic versions are the sonic touchups in the originals which only enhanced the listening experience; Sigur Ros has always been organic at it’s core. Taking this detailing away only subtracts from what the songs have to say, and when listening to Heim, you will most likely want to switch on the original versions so you can hear them in all of their entirety.

However, although these songs do feel bare and incomplete, they are also very personal and well played. I’ll admit, I am a sucker for acoustic albums. Sigur Ros are going to play well no matter what environment you put them in. And clearly, as we will no doubt see on the Heima DVD, these songs were recorded in unusual places. You can hear birds chirping in Heysatan. This is one of the songs that was literally recorded in the middle of no where in Iceland. If we eventually get to see these performances on film, I have a feeling they will gather much more meaning. In any case, all of these songs are enjoyable to listen to, but you aren’t getting the full picture that you deserve.

The draw to this is that these are in fact the bands most popular songs, which could possibly make this double EP a good introduction to the band. But if the listener likes the band enough to go anywhere farther from here, they will inevitably get all of the studio albums and this disk will become obsolete. I would personally argue that it would be best to start people off on Takk or Agaetis Byrjun anyway. Despite the fact that these are nice recordings, they are disposable and unnecessary. Even rabid Sigur Ros fans will probably only spin this disk a couple times, because it is simply not that interesting.

Final consensus? If you like Sigur Ros, grab it for sure. You get your money’s worth. Usually these imports fetch high prices, but I found Hvarf-Heim at Borders for fourteen dollars, which isn’t a great price all things considered, but it’s below average for Sigur Ros. Nice rarities, nice acoustic variations (for what they are), and nice artwork.