Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Sigur Rós’ music is built on lambent chords that billow and dissipate like smoke. The Icelandic quartet is akin to rock-inflected soundscape bands like Mogwai, Bark Psychosis, and Godspeed You Black Emperor!but none of those groups feature Jón Pós Birgisson’s alluring Thom Yorke-like pipes. (In fact, Birgisson’s rich, melodramatic tenor is so Yorke-like it’s no wonder the Radiohead frontman loves Sigur Rós.) And they certainly don’t sing in Hopelandic, which Birgisson claims is a self-created mixture of Icelandic and gibberish. Whatever it is, it’s a beautiful language, full of clucked consonants and soaring vowels, and it perfectly connects with Sigur Rós’ otherworldly musical vibe. The group’s second album, Agætis Byrjun, which came out last year in Iceland, is a majestic collection of songs and sounds. Following a Stone Roses-like backward-masked introduction, the album gets its true start, and immediate splendor, with “Svefn-G-Englar.” The tune begins with a gentle organ backing, Fender Rhodes plinks, and brush-struck drums before Birgisson lets loose his untamed bowed guitar. The song slowly, evenly swells, and by the time Birgisson sings the chorus’s high notes, which sound like a glorious postcoital sigh, it’s hard not to be swept away by Sigur Rós. Such gorgeous grandeur permeates Agætis Byrjun: “Starálfur” and “Vidrar Vel Til Loftárása” are heavily orchestrated, with strings drifting through the chord changes like pacific waves; “Olsen Olsen” begins with a rolling bass line and Birgisson straining for the upper reaches of his range, moves into a waltz chorus, and ends in a Beatlesque sing-along. Sigur Rós claims its country’s landscape is its lone influence; to judge from Agætis Byrjun, Iceland must be the most ethereal place on earth. Christopher Porter