The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Tag: sigur ros

Snapshot Review: How to Dress Well – Total Loss [Acephale/Weird World]

How to Dress Well, aka Tom Krell, doesn’t make music that’s easy to listen to or enjoy by any stretch of the imagination. That can also be considered part of his charm though, that he doesn’t bow to anyone’s standards. There are influences, that’s to be sure, and you could hear flashes of Bobby Brown or Michael Jackson in some of the tracks on HTDW’s 2010 debut album Love Remains. Those influences were filtered through Krell’s unique lens, and there was such a lo-fi, effect-laden treatment to everything that it often felt like you were listening to an R&B record underwater. Krell’s falsetto vocals also tended to sound like they were recorded from the opposite side of a room, the distance providing a chasm of disconnection against the intimacy of the lyrics. It was a symbolic gesture more than anything else, as we’d later come to find out that his struggles with depression have often kept his family and friends at arm’s length. That more or less informs how the new HTDW record Total Loss functions, although this time the production work has become more polished and easier to listen to. Krell is also much more up-front and personal this time too, and it makes for an open wound of a record that’s an emotional wrecking ball with a heavy dose of beautiful composition. The R&B flavor is still present on this album, but it’s a little more scaled back and minimalist in terms of composition. There are plenty more icy textures that glide and drift past instead of big beats and vocal posturing. If you’re expecting a bunch of “Ready for the World” clones to create clear highlights across this album, you will probably end up sorely disappointed. There are tracks like “Cold Nites” and “& It Was You” that are some of the most fascinating and complex pieces Krell has ever put together, and while their melodies affixed with accoutrements like finger snaps and intense vocal harmonies may have a lighthearted air to them, the lyrics are anything but. Where this record truly excels though are in the moments when atmosphere truly takes over and beauty shines through. There are post rock symphonic bits like “World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem)” and “Talking to You” that cut so deeply while saying so little that you halfway expect Krell to turn into Sigur Ros at times. That’s a very good thing, and it shows plenty of promise for his future records. Then again, those same sorts of elements were all over last year’s Just Once EP, and they’re only minimally represented on Total Loss. In a sense, the mixture of different styles on this record can make it seem less than cohesive at times, and the lack of important benchmarks across the whole thing can leave it feeling a little front-loaded. This isn’t a perfect album, nor does it quite accomplish the great things Love Remains was able to do. What truly holds this record together in spite of everything are the lyrics, which tend to devastate at every turn. But while this record weaves its way through darkness, the end starts to shine some light through in a powerful and meaningful way. “Set It Right,” in which Krell names the many friends and family members both living and dead that he’s loved and cared for in spite of everything, is probably the most important track on the entire record. “As far as love goes, it’s one step at a time,” he sings like somebody hoping to rebuild a long dead or dormant connection. With any luck, this album marks yet another step in the right direction for How to Dress Well.

How to Dress Well – Ocean Floor for Everything
How to Dress Well – Cold Nites (Pete Swanson Remix)

How to Dress Well – & It Was U

Buy Total Loss from Amazon

Album Review: Sigur R贸s – Valtari [XL]

Nobody makes a record quite like Sigur R贸s. Many have tried, and all have failed. This niche they have carved out for themselves puts them in a rather unique position; one where expectations are almost simply that they just make music that sounds beautiful. The consumate professionals they are though, the band hasn’t simply rested on their laurels and made the same record five times over. They’ve spent the last 15 years refining and twisting their post-rock crescendos in new and exciting ways that may not always have worked but still kept fans engaged. They earned so much credit for the brilliance of 脕gaetis Byrjun that nobody even blinked an eye when they invented their own language. The point was to show how the voice is but another instrument, and you don’t need words to express your feelings if the melody already does that for you. They furthered that point by titling their 2002 record (), with a track listing that was (for all practical purposes) “Untitled #1” through “Untitled #8”. They followed that record up with Takk, an album that pushed at the edges of restraint and took on a sunnier, more explosive disposition. Yet that still didn’t quite prepare you for 2008’s Me冒 su冒 铆 eyrum vi冒 spilum endalaust, which featured the band trying to trim the bloat of some of their grandest and most atmospheric work in an effort to fully harness those moments of pure release. The shift was both a blessing and a curse. Great as it was to hear Sigur R贸s breaking out of their mold a little bit, they didn’t fully commit to the idea and the album wound up uneven as a result.

After more than a decade of the recording and touring cycle, Sigur R贸s decided to take a bit of a hiatus in 2009 to spend time with family or work on other projects. Frontman J贸nsi Birgisson first made an atmospheric instrumental record with his boyfriend Alex Somers called Riceboy Sleeps, then took on a legitimate solo album that was heavy on pop and light on atmosphere. The band tried to keep up with their schedule of releasing an album every 2-3 years by unleashing Inni last year, a double disc live album and DVD recorded at a couple shows the band played in London in 2008. That served as a great reminder of how the band’s catalogue has evolved over the years, though it didn’t do much to hint at where they might head next. In an interview in the Wall Street Journal late last year, band members described their new album Valtari as “introverted,” “floaty and minimal,” “ambient” and “a slow takeoff toward something.” All too often what the music makers hear versus what the music listeners hear tends to be two different things, but in this rare case the record comes as described. That can be a positive or a negative depending on how you look at it.

If you were thrilled by how Me冒 su冒 铆 eyrum vi冒 spilum endalaust changed the game for Sigur R贸s by taking them in a poppier, freak-folkish direction, Valtari will instantly feel like a betrayal of that and a step backwards. Fans of the band’s earlier material that was largely atmospheric and measured should find solace that the new album is ingrained with that same spirit. Yet it’s still missing one essential component. For years, the best word to describe Sigur R贸s was “epic.” J贸nsi would play his guitar with a violin bow, and the noise would be so expansive it could topple mountains and carve out canyons. The visual representations of the music are intended to be equally impactful. In their video for “Gl贸s贸li” kids jump off an oceanside cliff, and their video for “Untitled #1” has schoolkids playing outside in a post-apocalyptic wasteland while wearing gas masks and building snowmen out of ash. As a mode of contrast, the video for Valtari‘s first single “Ekki M煤kk” is nearly eight minutes of grainy footage showing a boat floating through the air over the ocean. That does not lend itself well to the word “epic”, and neither does the song. So while this record might be long on mood and time, it comes up short on big moments. That doesn’t make it bad, just once again different from everything else they’ve done.

The classic Sigur R贸s move is to steadily build tension within a track and then give release in an outpouring of noise. That’s the standard for post-rock in general, actually. The closest thing you’ll get to that on Valtari is “Var煤冒”, which develops into an ocean of loud right around the 4.5 minute mark. A track like “Rembihn煤tur” however, becomes loud out of sheer necessity given the number of instruments and moving parts attempting to fit into that space. Graceful orchestral swells primarily take the place of widescreen guitars, and percussion seems to be a second thought or entirely forgotten on many of the songs. Similar things could be said about J贸nsi, whose vocal presence vanishes entirely from the last third of the record. As one of the band’s most unique and greatest assets, his absence is felt the most, even if he’s pounding the keys on stark piano-driven pieces like “Var冒eldur” and “Fj枚gur P铆an贸” instead of singing. But such twists are part of what make Sigur R贸s such a compelling band to listen to time and time again. Just when you think they’re headed into autopilot, they hang a left and take a new road.

With the consistent sonic maneuvering between records, one of these days Sigur R贸s is going to turn down the wrong path. Valtari could well be start of the band’s slow decline from their mountaintop. The record’s biggest strength and weakness is its complacency. Six albums in, so many of us want more with each new release, and this album is one case where the band is giving us less. The soundtrack to the most immense and incredible natrual wonders of the world has been replaced by the experience of sitting by a lake in the woods at sunset. The way the light shimmers off the calm water is breathtakingly gorgeous, but plenty of people will shrug their shoulders and ask where the beaches and waves are. For an oft minimalist record such as this, sometimes you need to just sit back and appreciate how little it takes to craft something that’s meaningful and emotionally stirring. Sit in the dark and let the music steamroll over you, giving it your full and undivided attention for an hour. If you can’t detect the care, precision and love poured into it, perhaps this isn’t the record for you. This is one for the socially awkward, the mentally calm and the extremely artistic. It stands to be their most divisive long player to date. Whether you love it or hate it or simply feel indifferent about it, you still can’t deny this album is anything less than beautiful. From that point it’s just a matter of if that beauty goes beyond skin deep.

Sigur R贸s – Ekki m煤kk

Buy Valtari from Amazon

Album Review: Braids – Native Speaker [Kanine]

By oh so many indications, 2011 is set to be the year that post-rock finally strikes it big. There is no official explanation as to why, save for saying that the sound is simply evolving and other elements are being incorporated into the more traditional post-rock sound. Of course post-rock in and of itself is a hazy term, loose on purpose to be a catch-all for stuff that sticks out like a sore thumb when placed against a standard 3.5 minute pop song. As such it’s experimental and more often than not immensely beautiful no matter if a band is using four electric guitars or a whole orchestra to get a point across. There’s also a solid rejection of verse-chorus-verse structuring, catchy hooks, and short, to-the-point statements. Post-rock is an adventure, a journey into the vast and unknown wilderness where discovery is half the fun. It is the realm of Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, along with Mogwai and Tortoise and Pelican. Thanks to a band like Braids and their debut record “Native Speaker” though, a musical genre that has reached something of a standard way of going about things gets reinvigorated with a few curveballs.

When reaching for their comparison chart, there’s probably higher than a 50% chance most people will try to define Braids as supremely indebted to Animal Collective. “They’re like Animal Collective, only if they came from Montreal,” somebody will say or write. While there are some similarities between the two groups, such as the somewhat liberal use of gurgling electronics and an overall natural flow to the song arrangements, there are far more differences worth paying close attention to. Braids doesn’t have much in the way of filtered/warped vocals (outside of the occasional echo effect) or harmonies. You can also understand and make sense of what singers Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Kathie Lee are singing. To put it another way, the vocals are “decipherable and intelligible”. They’re also not nearly part of the hippy-trippy freak-folk movement, because while a number of their songs are in the 6-8 minute range, there’s not a singular moment that feels over-extended or jam band-y. Think less psychedelic and more of a shoegaze-inspired pop thanks to creative arrangements and not a whole lot in the way of instrumental passages (save for the last track on the record). Of course that description doesn’t even suffice for this band, as they are notoriously hard to pin down into any one sound for too long. That’s largely why it’s easiest to put the band underneath the larger umbrella known as post-rock. Despite the apparant variations in styles from one song to the next, there are so many elements that hold steady across the record that everything comes off as striking and organic and exciting. Fuck genre tropes, Braids are content to carve their own path through this wilderness landscape.

“Native Speaker” begins with the first single and much-hyped track “Lemonade”, and it’s one hell of an introduction to Braids. While the sound of a babbling brook or creek may be confined to the opening track alone, it’s largely a statement for the entire record. The music softly and beautifully moves along, twisting and turning and moving around rocks or whatever else might be in the way. Somewhere in the distance a bird chirps, frogs jump around for fun, and occasionally a deer will come by for a drink. It takes over two minutes for “Lemonade” to reach a chorus, but that’s of little consequence since that time was so well spent building layer upon layer as keyboards pile on electronic elements pile on booming drums and finally guitars. Standell-Preston’s vocals hold a calm demeanor when they first come in, but that gets thrown pretty much to hell once she raises her voice to ask, “Have you fucked/all the stray kids yet?”. When the chorus does finally land, it’s a scorned scorcher, as the lines, “what I’ve found/is that we/are all just sleeping around” soar like they were launched off a mountaintop. The immediate lesson, and one that’s equally learned by most every track on the album, is that you don’t fuck with Raphaelle Standell-Preston in both vocal strength/range and personally as well. At seconds under 4.5 minutes, “Plath Heart” is the shortest song on “Native Speaker”, and it’s a synth-fueled dreamscape with an almost Dirty Projectors-esque bent to it. The vocals are practically cutesy and playful and a keyboard-created steel drum pushes that vibe further, but the lyrics betray that with a little bit of anti-relationship sentiment. That’s where the title really comes into play, because if you know how dark and depressing Sylvia Plath’s writing is, you know that a Plath heart isn’t something worth smiling about. A lovely lullaby is how the 8+ minute “Glass Deers” begins, with the keyboards lightly plinking as if singing you to sleep. The vocals play along too, even when Standell-Preston repeats over and over again about how she’s “fucked up”. Eventually though, while the melody remains on a lovely even keel, the vocals soar to an extreme as Standell-Preston begins to yell at the impressive level of Bjork or Karen O. That quiet-loud-quiet-loud singing trend continues for the duration while the lyrics are a bit more upbeat about loving someone even with all their faults. The atmospherics continue with the title track, in which the main part of the melody are a couple of quiet keyboards and a looped electronic bit that simply float in the ether. Not content to just let it sit there though, guitars and random noises begin to permeate the mix, piling on top of one another the way that great post-rock songs do. Harmonies are introduced, the vocals soar yet again, and then in a flash, all is quiet once more before the track goes gentle into that good night after 8.5 minutes of writhing around.

Have you ever been in an apartment or hotel room when a very loud rave is happening right next door? You can hear a muffled version of the beats through the wall and they totally keep you up as you’re trying to sleep. “Lammicken” exploits that sort of noise as the backing melody, along with a looped and melodic “ohhhhaaahhhohhhh”, both of which are the only two constant things about the track. “I can’t stop it,” Standell-Preston sings over and over again with varying degrees of forcefulness. Through it all, white electro-static builds and builds up in the mix, and as already mentioned, there’s no way to stop it. It overtakes everything else near the end of the song, before finally abruptly quitting in the last 30 seconds as the original backing melody plays the track out in a much more ominous fashion than before. A series of synths layered on top of one another mixed with some drum rim hits is how “Same Mum” begins, and once the playful vocals come in it becomes one of Braids’ poppiest and most immediate songs despite lacking a legitimate chorus. Some lightly picked Grizzly Bear-like guitar comes in about mid-way through the track, shortly before a 2 minute instrumental breakdown that also has some xylophone making an appearance. The final 90 seconds brings a slow down in tempo as the guitars disappear and vocals return with Standell-Preston providing interesting variations on the phrase, “We are from the same mum”. That’s the last thing she says on the entire record as we’re then led into the instrumental closer “Little Hand”. Beginning as a spacey, pulsating deep synth, keyboards begin to plink out a jaunty little melody that’s practically the sonic equivalent of twinkling stars. Carefully picked guitars weave themselves in and out of the mix as there’s just a hint of Sigur Ros-like atmosphere, even if there is no build to a huge crescendo. Instead, the melody slowly fades away as gently and calmly as things began.

What makes Braids so interesting is their ability to sustain a melody no matter how long or short a track might be. Their five minute songs are just as great as their eight minute ones because they all feel like they’re going somewhere. Even if a track only has one line in it, repeated ad nauseum, it’s the WAY the line is sung, along with the sounds surrounding it that keep the listener fully engaged. As such, Raphaelle Standell-Preston deserves much of the credit for her powerful and highly expressive vocal performance that soars far above and beyond your average female singer. The rest of the band are by no mean slouches either though, as the tracks on “Native Speaker” end up being not so much songs but immense compositions that are complicated even when they sound remarkably simple. The only spots where the quality dips on the album is near the end. After establishing a moody intensity on the two 8+ minute epics in the middle of the album, attempts to rise back up again at a more brisk pace don’t ever fully succeed despite their best efforts. It never gets boring, it just all sort of blends together in one cohesive piece of slow burn, synth-filled post-rock that’s simply not as distinctive as everything that came before it. Despite this, “Native Speaker” is most definitely one of the best records that will be released this month, and Braids one of the best up-and-coming bands you’ll hear about in 2011. There was a pretty heavy load of hype surrounding the band heading into their debut, and the good news is that most of it is justified. There’s room for improvement, but when your first album is as good as this one, Braids might just be one record away from truly becoming a universally respected and beloved band. It’s almost ironic that they also just happen to be from Montreal.

Braids – Lemonade
Braids – Plath Heart (via Pitchfork)

Preorder “Native Speaker” from Amazon

Album Review: J贸nsi – Go Live

With Sigur Ros on a bit of a break while most of the members spend time with family and the like, angelic-voiced frontman J贸nsi decided to work on some other music and art related projects. First came J贸nsi and Alex, an extremely sparse music and art project he did with his boyfriend Alex Somers. The album “Riceboy Sleeps” was a quiet collection of ethereal instrumentals that was recorded using entirely acoustic instruments. That was followed by a genuine solo album, “Go”, which was released this past spring. “Go” was probably the better of the two albums, even though both definitely had their individual merits. Neither could quite live up to most of what Sigur Ros has done, but that’s an incredibly high standard to live up to. One of the flat-out great things about J贸nsi’s solo work was that he felt the need to make every live performance a special experience for the audience. He worked closely with 59 Productions to craft an elaborate stage setup with costumes and other visual pieces such as animation and video to accompany most every song. It made J贸nsi one of the best live acts to see in the last year, and if you missed it, you’re basically screwed unless you live in Japan or Iceland which are where his last two solo shows will be taking place this month. Personally, I tried pretty hard to make it out to one of the three dates J贸nsi played in Chicago this past spring and fall, but unfortunately just never quite got there. The good news is that this week saw the release of “Go Live” – a CD/DVD package that gives you all that J贸nsi audio AND visual goodness you either missed or just want to see/hear again.

First, the “Go Live” DVD is worth the purchase price alone. It was filmed at J贸nsi’s very first solo live show on the “Go” tour, back in London in March. He and his backing band play eleven songs, a couple of which are unreleased, in the sense that they didn’t appear on the original “Go” album. No Sigur Ros songs or J贸nsi and Alex songs (even though Alex is part of his solo tour backing band), just J贸nsi solo stuff. Adding the visual element to these songs in this particular case actually serves to enhance them from their original states, really just taking art to the “next level”. Between flowers growing, birds soaring through the air and rain pouring down in sheets, it’s a visual feast for the eyes that feels as inspired by J贸nsi as J贸nsi surely was by it. There’s a distinct lack of highlights on the DVD, mostly because the entire live show as a whole can be considered a higlight. As a teaser though, outside of a trailer a lot of the focus has been on a wonderfully extended version of “Around Us” that makes all the right moves. Eleven songs and 73 minutes is more than fair for a DVD such as this one, but that doesn’t quite compare with the 14 tracks and 75 minutes of the CD that comes with it.

Lacking the visual stimuli but packing a nearly equal punch, the audio-only portion of “Go Live” was pulled from a show in Belgium back in May and a few tracks also come from a Brighton, England show this past September. Given that the studio version of “Go” only spans 9 tracks and this CD is 14, that means 5 new songs you might not have heard before. Granted, tracks like “Stars in Still Water” and “Icicle Sleeves” were pretty much played at every solo show J贸nsi did, and “Sticks + Stones” appeared on the “How to Train Your Dragon” soundtrack, but in all likelihood you haven’t heard every single one of these tracks. Just to have high quality recorded versions of the unreleased stuff is worth it, and all the songs are so damn good you’ve got to wonder why the unreleased stuff didn’t make the original album. Another great thing about J贸nsi live in general is that the crowds are more than respectful. Plenty of live records are marred by too much audience interaction or singing along and things of that nature, but outside of little bits of applause before and after a handful of tracks, most everything is silent as night. It leaves the CD in pristine audio quality to the point where it sounds like a studio recording, only a little more insistent and playful. The DVD fares equally well audio-wise, though the visual element takes some attention away from that. Things to pay close attention to on the “Go Live” CD include a harrowing 7-minute rendition of “Tornado”, another equally great 8 minutes of “Around Us”, plus the new/unreleased songs. Naturally though, J贸nsi likes to save the best for last, which is why a 10+ minute version of “Grow Till Tall” ends both the CD and DVD. It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder why it’s only 5 minutes on the original album.

The majority of live CDs and DVDs are not worth your hard-earned money. Any artist can put 5 cameras in a concert venue, perform a straight show and then release it. There’s no real need to be interesting, provided it sounds good enough. There also seems to be a casual approach to crowd noise, as some artists feel it necessary to prove a “connection” to the audience or are just sloppy when it comes to editing that out. Those crying fans singing along with your every word? Let’s put that on the DVD because our fans are passionate. J贸nsi’s fans are every bit as passionate and every bit as connected (if not moreso) than any other artist, but “Go Live” doesn’t play those cards except for very conservatively. The people responsible for putting this package together fully recognize that this show is an artistic expression akin to a play or a painting in an art gallery. You don’t boorishly yell things out in the middle of a play, nor do you rub your greasy hands all over a Picasso. You look but don’t touch. You listen and don’t interrupt. Throw in unique renditions of songs you already know and a handful of new stuff, and an already worth it package becomes a must-own. “Go Live” is better than the studio version of “Go”. The songs retain their beauty but flourish beyond that into something triumphant and even more exciting when heard, and the visual side from the DVD half deepens the art in a different way. Released just in time for the holidays, the “Go Live” package is makes for a wonderful gift for that J贸nsi/Sigur Ros fan in your life.

Buy “Go Live” from J贸nsi’s website
Buy it from Amazon

Live Friday: 5-7-10

Your liking of Sigur Ros and singer Jonsi’s side project don’t have to be exclusive to one or the other, and in fact it probably behooves you to like both. I was a slight bit timid in my review of Jonsi’s first solo effort “Go” a few weeks back, but my beef is that compared to his main band Sigur Ros, it wasn’t as good. In reality though, how could you expect it to be? Still, with a group of collaborators that included his boyfriend Alex Somers and avant-garde composer Nico Muhly, “Go” is one solid effort, even if it doesn’t eclipse his other stuff. Now in terms of a live show, Jonsi has pulled out all the stops for his current American tour. There’s a heavy theatrical element and a stage design that’s second to none. The photos and online video I’ve seen of both are nothing short of impressive. I would have and should have gone to see Jonsi when he stopped by Chicago for a pair of shows last month, but unfortunately I fell ill for a few days and decided against going. Hopefully there will be a next time. For those, like me, who are/were unable to see the Jonsi concert experience, this Live Friday should give you an idea of how good it is. In fact, for you collectors out there, this session from Minnesota Public Radio actually includes a performance of an unreleased song. Yes, Jonsi prefaces the song “Stars in Stillwater” by saying that he wrote it 10-15 years ago, and went so far as to record it for “Go”, but felt that it wasn’t good enough to include on the album. It is, in fact, pretty good. You also get the song “Go Do” performed with just a baritone ukelele, and “Around Us” on solo piano. To sum up, it’s a great session and most definitely worth downloading if that’s your sort of thing.

There’s also the streaming interview portion (link below) which, if you paid any attention to the “masters of awkward silence” interview Sigur Ros did with NPR a couple years back, had the potential to be equally as strange. Thankfully, Jonsi is very talkative and open about all sorts of topics. He discusses why he chose to release a solo album now, the Icelandic volcano situation, and his love of strawberry pies. Pretty good actually.

Jonsi, Live on MPR 3-24-10:
Jonsi – Stars in Stillwater (Live on MPR) (Unreleased song!)
Jonsi – Go Do (Live on MPR)
Jonsi – Around Us (Live on MPR)

Stream the entire interview/performance

Buy “Go” from Amazon

Album Review: Jonsi – Go [XL]

The solo debut from Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi Birgisson came out last week, and though I had every intention of reviewing it then, after the half dozen listens I usually give records before forming opinions about them, I was still struggling to gather my thoughts. Living up to the powerful legacy that Sigur Ros set for themselves can be tough, especially when you’re on your own (just ask Jonsi’s OTHER side project with his boyfriend Alex Somers, titled Jonsi & Alex aka Riceboy Sleeps), and determining whether Jonsi’s new solo album “Go” is worthy of that high bar is really what kept me up at night. Of course the common element among all these things is the vocal performance of Jonsi himself, whose angelic singing pretty much requires bits of beautiful instrumentals to create cohesion and inspire. To help out with such a task on this “solo” effort (in name only), he recruited famed indie composer Nico Muhly to arrange many of the tracks, which of course benefits the record greatly. Jonsi’s boyfriend Alex also played on most of the songs on “Go,” and multi-instrumentalist Samuli Kosminen added strings and woodwinds and guitars and all sorts of digital production work to get this thing sounding unique. And the album does manage to ultimately separate itself from the other Sigur Ros material, but not so much that it feels uncomfortable or even like a mild betrayal of what we’ve come to know Jonsi for in the first place.

Perhaps the main difference between Sigur Ros and Jonsi’s “Go” is the overall tone. Whereas Sigur Ros tends to focus on the ethereal quietly beautiful moments, drenching them in an instrumental haze that tends to be tonally all over the map, Jonsi by comparison goes straight for the jugular with a triumphant, upbeat pop sound. Sigur Ros likes to do 6 minutes of slow burn builds into an explosive triumph of epic proportions, and Jonsi holds down a frantic tempo and prefers a verse-chorus-verse song structure that wraps up in under 5 minutes (most of the time). Really a lot of what you need to know about this Jonsi album can be deciphered just by a careful analysis of the cover art. You get a sketched black and white picture of Jonsi, dressed in a military-esque garb, with a rainbow of colors spraying off his shoulder and neck. How fitting then that many of the songs on “Go” sound like they could be military anthems for battles in some imaginary world with imaginary characters, while at the same time maintaining a radiant joy that can’t help but fill your heart with hope and general positivity. Not that past Sigur Ros albums haven’t been, but listening to this Jonsi record is, on all accounts, a delight that makes it difficult to criticize.

If I do have any problems with “Go,” and in some respects I suppose I do, it’s mainly rooted in the overall lack of emotional heft it conveys. Sure, there are a couple ballads in “Kolindur” and closer “Hengilas,” but outside of those darker, heavier moments, the record can feel a little TOO lighthearted and poppy. It’s like the difference between eating a rice cake and actual cake for a meal. The light and airy nature of the rice cake may be far healthier for you, but it doesn’t do much to fill you up in the end…and it lacks a little flavor. It feels like a weak meal because essentially it is. Cake, on the other hand, may be bad for your health, but a decent sized piece will fill you up and send you on the inevitable sugar high before you crash. For many of these songs, Jonsi goes the rice cake route, and without something heavier in the diet, you’ll finish and be left still hungry for something more substantial. The couple ballads add that extra heaviness to the record, and so they’re beneficial, but it’s just a little sad there aren’t at least one or two more of them – especially considering the amazing things Jonsi tends to do with them. Aside from that, I also am finding an issue with Jonsi’s decision to sing most of the songs on “Go” in English, which is the first time he’s really done something like that for an extended period. With all those Sigur Ros records, I fell in love with the band more because I couldn’t understand what was being said and Jonsi’s vocals served their purpose as just another instrument rather than actual words coming out of somebody’s mouth. Now that I can grasp the concepts and ideas that Jonsi is providing on his solo album, not only is some of the mystery gone, but I find my focus taken away from the overall instrumental compositions and instead focused on what’s being said. In other words, Jonsi singing in English is distracting to me much of the time, and it’s made it harder for me to get into this album as a result.

Between the three projects that Jonsi Birgisson is now involved with, I’d say that his latest *official* solo record ranks second best. While I did enjoy the Jonsi & Alex record from last year, its extended moments of quiet instrumentals just lacked a certain energy or structure. And of course Sigur Ros continues to hold my main attention for the time being, even if they are on a break while “everyone has babies”. Jonsi’s new album “Go” doesn’t quite snare me as much as almost any other Sigur Ros record, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse than them either. As a momentary distraction, or even a project to explore his lighter, poppier side, Jonsi and his friends do an excellent job crafting this album, and if this sounds like your sort of thing, you’d be wise to get yourself a copy. This especially goes for anybody who heard Sigur Ros and felt they were too heavy-handed or moody in the first place – you might find new things to like via the Jonsi record. Should the “brief hiatus” that Sigur Ros are currently on extend for some reason into forever, at least we can take some comfort that Jonsi will keep making good albums to help fill that potential void.

Jonsi- Boy Lilikoi (YSI)

Buy “Go” from Amazon

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén