Genre: Post-Rock, Indie Pop, Dream Pop, Ambient, Art Pop
For years now the icelandic band Sigur Rós have been a big name in the post-rock scene, known for ambient soundscapes, tender orchestration, and blistering crescendo. In 2008 they released “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust” which many considered to be a step downwards, more focused on indie pop. I happened to like it. Those more immediate poppy themes were further explored by frontman Jónsi in his 2010 LP “Go“. Last year Sigur Rós released “Valtari” which explored a very Jónsi & Alex like ambience. To my surprise, they also had another record ready less than one year after!
Which brings us to Kveikur. I like to imagine Kveikur as being the great tasting smoothie that comes out when you put Go, the dark half of ( ), and some ice in a blender. The record is equal parts brilliant pop hooks and dark ambient orchestration. I’ve heard some people already getting upset over the record for this fact and I think that’s ridiculous. Sigur Rós as a band have always took risks. Ágætis byrjun was a leap and a bound away from the sound of Von and was extremely poppy in comparison. When I look at each record in sequence it is plain to me that the band has always been growing and progressing with each new release. Kveikur is a natural place in this order, and it is wonderful for what it is.
The record starts with the longest song, Brennisteinn. This track was released as the lead single and instantly caused a bit of a ruckus in the online music community. It’s very dark and drum driven which instantly set it apart from the more recent section of the Sigur Rós catalogue. From then on the record moves seamlessly though a group of great songs. Hrafntinna has a great metallic percussion track. Ísjaki is instantly loveable with an incredible chorus. Yfirborð has a great ambience and some very cool pitch shifted vocals. Stormur is a good song, but nothing special. Feels like an interlude before the second half. And the song Kveikur starts off that second half as dark as the first was started. Rafstraumur is the Ísjaki of the second half. It has a brilliant chorus that I just cannot stop listening to. Blaþráður has great pumping percussion and a lovely tender outro. Var is the closing track. It’s a soft piano piece that morphs into a string piece halfway through. The violins sound like they were composed from something like 100 different takes. Some of them are a little off tune in a perfect way. Some even sound like a horn section in the background (and for all I know, they could be!) It’s only 3:44, which is a crying shame. I could listen to it for hours. As it is though, it is the perfect length to close the album gracefully.
Sonically there is a lot of nice stuff here. Masterfully delayed bits of Jónsi’s vocals flit and dance in the sidelines of the mix. A more upbeat hand percussion style is featured on several tracks and it reminds me of Jónsi’s solo album in a good way. The way the vocals are arranged on each track displays great pop-sensibilities.
Overall, I love Kveikur. I’ve only spent a small amount of time with it, but I can only see myself becoming more and more happy with it as time goes on. A lot of fuss has been made to the effect that Kveikur is Sigur Rós’s “Dark Record”, which I think is untrue. Kveikur has dark moments, but it is also home to some of the band’s most jubilant moments. I believe Kveikur will stand the test of time as one of Sigur Rós’s most dynamic albums.
Highlights: Brennisteinn, Ísjaki, Rafstraumur, Var