Posts Tagged ‘heima’

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Sigur Ros – Heima

January 23, 2008

As Sigur Ros bassist Georg speaks in the tour diary included in the second disk of the Heima DVD, up until the release of this film, Sigur Ros fans had not really been given a visual document of the bands work and spirit aside from the album artwork, which is perfectly pleasant and beautiful on it’s own terms, but does not really give fans the kind of concert experience that they have always wished for. Heima is a film about Iceland, and the islands most popular band, Sigur Ros, on a short unannounced tour throughout the country. Heima means “at home,” which means that the band is in their most comfortable environment, their own home country with all of it’s beautiful, homely charms.

The majority of the film is presented in the form of live concert footage and footage of Iceland’s beautiful natural landscapes. It is divided into passages concentrated on different towns, villages, and cities, and personal concert experiences from each. The idea that this could turn into a dull, Discovery Channel documentary is immediately disproved, as the band proves that they are among the most innovative and consistently interesting performers in a long time. In fact, Sigur Ros turn what we know about documentaries, let alone music documentaries, upside down. Within the first fifteen minutes, we are shown live footage of the band performing one of the better songs off of Takk while completely silhouetted by an earthen cloth that takes up the entire expanse of a stage. The entire song is performed under shadow, reminding us that the music of Sigur Ros is as much about what is not there as what is there. This may seem pretentious, but we must remember that this is a band that released an album with blank pages in the sleeve meant for fans to produce lyrics of their own, a counterpoint for the fact that Sigur Ros vocalist Jonsi almost exclusively sings in a babel that does not belong to any language.

Almost every song is performed in a unique way or in a unique place, and although some of the performances do not add anything new to their studio recordings, they all resonate with warmth. This may be partially due to the inclusion of the band’s supporting strings section, the all girls band Amiina, that has served Sigur Ros very well within the past ten years and act as family both professionally and personally.

Another switch-up is employed very early on in the naturalistic segments. Footage of running water from streams and waterfalls is reversed. I could tell you that this represents Sigur Ros moving backwards in it’s own footsteps in the snow, back home, to where things started, but then I would sound like I’m looking for reasons to praise the bands every move. This kind of over-analysis from fans is what has given the band their pretentious reputation. What we need to remember is, water running backwards in gorgeous high quality just looks impressive. And the ideas of Sigur Ros are not always as complex as we may think. The band keeps their music close to the human condition, and closer to the human ear.

What Sigur Ros have done are bring us into their world, into their home, and showed us what their music is about. Heima is as much a testament to Iceland as it is to Sigur Ros and their live repertoire. Throughout the span of the film, the band play songs in desolate regions such as in the middle of a forest as well in a slew of other places that I will not mention so to leave the majority of the movie a surprise. These performances are either pretentious or completely genuine, and we struggle with this question until after the performance of the final song, when Jonsi describes an interesting family tidbit which I also cannot reproduce here, in risk of it losing it’s effect. We are also shown footage of the people of the different Icelandic villages living their everyday lives, as well as indulging in the concerts, which they seem only half as impressed about as we do. A local marching band accompanying Sigur Ros onstage seems to them to be completely natural, as unique as it is. Moments like these are not few, and I struggle to not reveal more of them because of how interesting they all are. But shots of the natural beauty of Iceland are just as important and moving as the happenings the people that inhabit it. This seems to be part musical documentary, and part natural documentary, both areas approached in lighthearted and honest ways.

Intricacies aside, Heima is a solid live concert experience. The songs are performed very well, although they do not differ much aurally from the original album cuts. The DVD is put together very nicely, but at times the interactive menus can get a bit confusing and tiring, despite their creativity of their presentation of an elderly map of Iceland, which are probably much more navigable to Icelandic people. The extras are quite interesting and are enough to keep fans’ appetites quelled until the band’s next release, whenever that may be. There are a couple different versions of Heima that you can buy, namely the standard two disk DVD as well as a deluxe edition with an art book, but both releases have the same two disks and are only cosmetically different. My complaints of the film are only in my desire to have seen some of my personal favorite songs performed, specifically Gong, Saeglopur, and Svefn-g-englar, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and none of the song selections here are wasted efforts. I was especially impressed with the performance of Meo Blodnasir, a magical little interlude on Takk that would not normally be seen as anything more than filler. Even for casual Sigur Ros fans, Heima is essential, and it is surely the apex of Sigur Ros’ career thus far. Easily the best music documentary I have seen, and a highlight of 2007 in both music and film.

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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.

Hvarf

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.