Posts Tagged ‘sigur ros’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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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.

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More small reviews

June 28, 2007

Slowdive – Catch The Breeze [Compilation]
Was it really a good idea to make this compilation in the first place? It should be known that Slowdive is a wonderful band and there really needed to be some kind of introduction for new fans, but why make it two disks when the band had so little material? This includes nine out of ten tracks on the original release of Souvlaki, barely anything from Just For A Day, and half of Pygmalion, as well as a lackluster selection of rarities from some early EPs. To be quite honest, this is unnecessary and poorly compiled, and anyone who is interested in Slowdive after buying this will want the rest of their stuff for the sake of completion, making this even more frustrating. What we really needed was a rarities collection, a compilation of all the hard to find EPs that include other songs that fans really want to hear but can’t bear to spend tons of cash in different places for. Which brings me to yet another problem with this, the price. It’s an import, so it’s going to cost around twenty five in the States if you can even find it, because it’s rare. This is really only for hardcore completionists who want the art and liner notes, but for anyone else the recent re-releases of the studio LPs that round up all of the officially released goodies on their bonus disks is more than enough and does more good than this does. On one hand all of this music is great, so I can’t really bear to give this a horrible rating, but as a purchase this is really stupid.


Blind Faith – Blind Faith
I was very apprehensive when I first listened to this, mostly because I don’t really like Eric Clapton that much. To be honest, I just really didn’t want to like this at all. But for whatever reason I ended up enjoying it to a certain degree. The first three songs are darn good. Had to Cry Today is a classic riff, and Well All Right is too, but I really prefer Can’t Find My Way Home, a quaint little acoustic tune that is probably my favorite song on the album. The one even casual Clapton fans seem to know is Presence of the Lord, which really does nothing for me because the whole religious thing kind of doesn’t sit well. But I guess the peak of the album is the final rocker/jam Do What You Like, which at times is very cool but probably could have been chizzled down, at least the long bass and drum solos. There are really some talented people working on this album. Clapton and Baker are really some of the best on their respective instruments. But like most stuff from this lite 60s blues genre, the guitar style and production bores me to no end. That doesn’t stop this from having some choice songs though, and it may be a better place to start on Clapton’s career than the likes of his solo albums.


Sonic Youth – Sister
Pinning Sister as a second best record really undermines the fact that it is a great record and not just the alternative to the obvious. While this is not an obvious record, like most albums by Sonic Youth, it is still immediately recognizable as a true classic of it’s decade, virtually refining noise-rock and displaying Sonic Youth’s songwriting ability and truly monumental style. Perhaps the comparison is made because Sister is not quite as ambitious or relentless as Daydream Nation, but in any case it is just about as enjoyable in terms of good songs and the overall result. What Sonic Youth does with undeniable success is rain the easygoing nature of American youth into a single album which does it’s damage with great consistency. At some points the album feels like the soundtrack to a quick weekend trip through rural America with your buddies, and to me that is represented by the cover pretty well. Sometimes this album is soft, with the wonderful Schizophrenia and the appropriately titled soft/hard noise of Tuff Gnarl. And sometimes it is great punk with choice numbers such as Catholic Block and Hot Wire My Heart. The album gets more rocking as it goes along and is very abrasive and by all means not a softie, and the only one song goes over the five minute mark, making it feel more listenable to the casual fan and easier to swallow, making this a good place to start. A noise rock landmark that not only deserves respect but demands it.


George Carlin – Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics
Although George Carlin is without question one of my favorite comedians, this is not his comedy working at it’s best. In my opinion, his sense of humor translates best through his books, but for a live comedy album, you could do worse than this. However, most of his completely outlandish comedy is overshadowed here by vulgar social satire, some of which is good and some of which isn’t. More than anything, George Carlin makes some really good points here and completely tears down politically correct walls and makes them his bitch. Especially provocative are “I Ain’t Afraid of Cancer” and “Rape Can Be Funny.” But as informative as this humor might be, it really isn’t all that funny. Carlin is his best when he is spitting anger and completely outlandish, random complaints, but here is more of a constructed approach to his psyche. Essential for fans, but in my opinion it’s a hard comedy album to listen to.


Cocteau Twins – Violaine [Single]
As far as I know, the Violaine series was the last material the Cocteau Twins ever released. In more ways than one, the series of EPs for the singles Tishbite and Violaine are just as important if not more important than the album they came from. Finding these singles is quite the task, and paying for them is even harder, but hunting them down individually or getting them in the box set Lullabies To Violaine is surely worth it. Like all of the Twins’ singles from the time, the song Violaine doesn’t take too many risks but is still quite a good song. All of the other songs are equally accessible, romantic, and at times wonderfully fragile. But the truth stands, the sound of the Milk and Kisses sessions feels a bit recycled from the Four Calendar Cafe recordings. In any case, these songs are lovely and a treat to any Cocteau Twins fans. The swirling bittersweet romance of Circling Girl and Smile are simply lovely, but the other two b-sides are the real treats. Tranquil Eye is a fine lullaby, and Alice is really like nothing the band ever did, from an era that otherwise doesn’t stand out that much. The song is one of Liz Fraser’s best vocal performances, and a mysterious, almost dark song that is a personal favorite of many fans. More than appropriate as a last released song for the band on their last single. For fans who have already deciphered the bands unique sounds, completely essential.


The White Stripes – Blue Orchid [Single]
I don’t know exactly what issue of the Blue Orchid EP I have is, but it has the title track, the two b-sides, and the You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket live take. As a big White Stripes fan, I’ll pick up any singles I see in the store, which is actually pretty rare to see. But this was more of an asset to me than the Walking With A Ghost EP by a long shot. The single is damn good, one of the few good ones from Get Behind Me Satan. And the two b-sides are disposable but fun little scraps/leftovers. Whose A Big Baby is funny and playful as long as you don’t take it seriously, and Though I Hear You Calling is just plain fun. But the live take I’m just not interested in, and although the song has some good moments, it might be my least favorite song on Elephant and is all around not that good of a performance. In a word, interesting. Fans will want this.


Cocteau Twins – Dials/Crushed/The High Monkey-Monk/Oomingmak
This rare EP which I believe can only be found from the Cocteau Twins first box set contains five absolutely wonderful, classic Cocteau Twins numbers. In terms of mood and sound, this matches The Moon And The Melodies relatively closely, or at least the first and last songs do. But to be fair, these songs have much more identity and feel a lot more special than any songs from that album. The lovely Dials starts off the disk, and an instrumental version of Oomingmak ends it beautifully. But it’s the ones in the middle that really matter. Crushed is a typical pick for best Cocteau Twins song from hardcore fans, and The High Monkey-Monk is like nothing the Twins had ever done before, combing their lovely ambiance and dream-pop sensibilities with an eastern tinge making for an absolutely priceless cut. I have no idea about the rarity of this release, but these songs are four of the bands best and whatever trouble it takes a fan to hunt them down is worth it.


Arcade Fire – Funeral
Since their 2003 self titled EP debut, Arcade Fire have reached near mythical, untouchable status in the indie community by means of two fantastic albums and a killer live act. And Funeral raised the majority of that hype. If I recall correctly, Funeral stands as the best selling indie debut of all time, or something like that, but the details don’t really matter… Even upon it’s release, there was a stampede of popularity. Funeral is a tour de force of everything that indie rock has ever been about. Clever instrumentation is the first big draw. Using a myriad of creative instruments such as bells, accordions, violins, cellos, and even kettle whistles during Neighborhood #4, the band produces an interesting sound that does not let up. The fact that this album is about death does not overshadow the fact that it is also about love. For the most part, the album stays solid and lovely the whole way through. Almost every track stands out. The opening Tunnels is a touching love song, Power Out is an amazing explosion of energy, and an anthemic masterpiece is achieved with Rebellion. But they reach true pop bliss with Haiti, an irresistible tropical bounce, when Regine Chassagne whispers “in the forest we are high.” The album is not without it’s small flaws though, but perhaps they make Funeral all the more lovable. The production is creamy and smooth, which is probably why it gained so much popularity in exchange for a little backbone. Also, the vocalists styles are unique but also not necessarily always great. And a few low points are reached, namely 7 Kettles, but the spirit of the album is revelatory and lovely enough to captivate anyones mind. Big surprise, we finally have an indie band that meets almost impossible hype. A real keeper.


The Clash – London Calling
London Calling, The Clash’s massive double LP, is just one of those punk classics that I could never really truly like despite my best efforts. But to me, this isn’t really classic punk but instead classic punk-pop. It’s best moments more than justify it, and I can definitely see why people like it so much, but the majority of these songs are simply tired to me. It’s best moments are either some of the most brilliant, heavy songs the punk movement ever heard or wonderful pop; London Calling, Brand New Cadillac, Hateful, Spanish Bombs, The Guns of Brixton, and Train in Vain are all fantastic songs. But the majority of everything else is plagued by hooks that apparently only I deem cheesy. Specifically, songs like Rudie Can’t Fail, Jimmy Jazz, Lost In The Supermarket, and Clampdown are horribly annoying. Part of the problem I had with this album was the occasional reggae that they tried to work into the music which really only ended up severely annoying me. This is a monumental album, because not ever before had punk been drawn so freaking close to pop, enough so for the genres to meld. Thus, this is an essential punk album and subject of countless classic hooks. I mean really, I heard it first when I was a little kid and I was amazed even back them how many songs I recognized from the radio and pop culture in general. It’s also got that classic album cover that represents everything that punk is all about, and it is eternally plastered in my mind from being framed in so many of my friends houses. It’s a classic album. Half of it simply annoys the shit out of me, that’s all.


The Jesus And Mary Chain – Darklands
Considering the circumstances of the previous album, Darklands is a pretty ambitious album, even considering it’s tame nature in comparison to Psychocandy. Instead of loud, hooky punk-pop, The Jesus And Mary Chain created breathy, touching love songs, as well as including both Reids in the vocal responsibilities. The sheer emotional power that these songs hold is sometimes staggering. The three singles, Darklands, Happy When It Rains, and April Skies, are among the best the band has ever created, and the rest of the album is fairly solid as well. The problem might be the environment in which this is listened to. If you actually find yourself listening to this in your house on a rainy day, you probably WONT be happy. But at the same time, these songs hold considerable weight when played at the right time and in the right place. This may be tiring to listen to all the way through, as it does not let up in it’s revelatory romantic mood, but the truth still stands that this is another record that built a signature JAMC sound, as every record of theirs did. They never really came back to this style, making it feel like an anthem packed explosive valentine to fans. Wonderful in it’s own way.


Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun
The Icelandic band Sigur Ros, by this point in their career, have redefined and expanded their sound enough times to completely avoid categorization. Are they rock? Are they ambient? Or are they simply some breed of sophisticated pop? The only thing for certain is that Sigur Ros aren’t afraid of being themselves, and have an awe-inspiring artistic freedom. Throughout this sprawling sophomore album, Sigur Ros created possibly their most accessible and simulatneously memorable album of their careers. The strategy utilized on Ágætis Byrjun is the same that was used on Von and would be used on future albums () and Takk. That strategy is simple. More means more. Which is ironic, because the opening introduction track is exactly the melody that the listener would want expanded on to about five minutes. This may seem like a pretentious move, but many have mistaken Sigur Ros’ all-over-the-place style and relentless experimentation for pretentiousness only to gradually realise that it is true beauty and the art of learning while writing songs. Really, it is quite impressive how consistant this album stays. The bands style here is to combine subtley atmospheric instrumentation with emotive, soaring melodies. These songs sound huge, both in length and in scope, and the result is surprisingly warm. This also sounds very unlikely, almost too good to be true. But what do you know, Sigur Ros pull it off, against all odds. From the opening Svefn-G-Englar, vocals are given extremely relaxed treatment and strings and a lovely melody is gradually explored. It’s hard to believe it, but every track is standout. Around the middle, the album shifts into a more dark, melancholy mood for the extent of two songs, Ny Batteri and Hjartao Hamast, which help to make Ágætis Byrjun Sigur Ros’ most representative album. The extent of my gruff is that the band repeats themselves a little here and there, but who doesn’t like more of a good thing? Happy, sad, lovely, dark, bright, relaxing, urgent. Sigur Ros are all of these things and more on their many albums, and this is the one that just happens to be the best. Although it may seem “uncool” to like Sigur Ros in some of the indie circles, emotion doesn’t lie. Sigur Ros is a wonderful band with a myriad of wonderful sounds. Start here.


Tool – 10,000 Days
While I would have deemed 10,000 Days the worst Tool album to date a couple of months ago, I have given it enough time to decide that it is slightly better than Undertow. The sheer quality of the album is simply shadowed by how difficult and limit pushing the music is. Every song on the album is in some way a new exciting revelation for Tool, who having been out of the studio for five years really had to prove that they weren’t loosing their touch. Some familiar aspects of Tool are still here. The touches of filler, the difficult rhythms, and progressive style are still here. These details remind us that Tool is still very much one with their fans. During the filler song Lipan Conjuring, Adam Jones “sings” along lightly with a creepy Native American chant. This detail caught my ear for some reason. It is just a subtle reminder that the band does not let up, even when they are crafting a small, seemingly insignificant nuance. Once again, every corner of the album shows Tool doing what they do best in new ways. Maynard’s voice sounds much different at times, which is alright, because his voice actually sounds more smooth and his lyrics are only getting better and more insightful. The radio hit Vicarious is hypnotically dark, as the lyrics describe our painful world to be like. Jambi. The most difficult part of the album is the long, pained Wings for Marie series, dedicated to Maynard’s recently departed mother. Tool have never made a piece this long and progressive, and it’s fun if not a little difficult to get through. The album contains less memorable riffs than other Tool albums, but on the other hand The Pot is easily among the absolute best songs the band has ever creates. It has rock solid riffs, a frenetic pace, and downright unbelievable guitar and bass work. In fact, the entire album features perhaps the most impressive instrumentation the band has shown yet. The latter parts of the album tend towards more hypnotic psychedelia. It’s a difficult album, and not always fun, but it has some great, classic Tool songs and it expands the band repetoire even further, proving that Tool really ARE amazing and don’t lose momentum.

I guess we can nail Tool down to a specific genre now, can’t we?

Progressive psychedelic alternative grunge metal.

Maybe.