Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sigur Ros - ( ) (2002)

3.5 ★/7.0 - 7.9

Pretentious is one of the most overused and misunderstood words in music criticism today. It’s constantly employed as a sticker of disapproval, when in reality, music can be pretentious without necessarily being bad. For example, Sigur Ros, as you probably already know, is pretentious in that they think their glacial paced, classical influenced soundscapes are vital. Just look at the bombastic claims left on their website (“We are simply gonna change music forever...and don't think we can't do it, we will”). But this wasn't a problem on Agaetis Byrjun because they exhibited the talent that could back up such statements. Their new album, however, is another beast completely and whether they've constructed a work that justifies the self-importance that's overabundant in every single aspect of it is questionable. You see, ( ) doesn’t have a speakable name. It's simply given the symbol of two opposing parenthesis. Of course, we'll probably think of something to call it: “The Brackets Album”, “The Unpronounceable” or, a title preferred by the countless dissenters it’ll undoubtedly inspire, “Aimless Self-Indulgent Crap”. A more pressing issue is that the songs aren't titled anything either. All 8 tracks will show up in your computer as "Untitled", even though they blatantly have names (see set lists, their website).

Despite the album's puzzling conceptual nature, "Vaka" (I'm using the real songtitles, translated to english) is enough to believe in it's immense power. The sorrowful keyboard progression, Birgisson’s ball-clenching high falsettos, and the soaring crescendo near the end create what is easily the most breathtakingly beautiful thing they’ve ever recorded. However, the first half is much better than the second half. While the first four songs are all distinctive from one another, brimming with shimmering hooks ("The Spy Machine") and masterfully executed atmosphere ("First Song"), the second half, with the exception of the excellent "Pop Song", dissolves into a string of slow, plodding, never-ending swells. By the end of the fifth track, we’re sick of the same lyrics, the same tempo and the formulaic compositions which aren’t worth being stretched out like taffy to the high-digit time marks they’re given. Everything Sigur Ros constructed for ( ) gives off the vibe that it's a life changing conceptual masterpiece that needs to be given time and research towards understanding. Realistically though, there’s nothing to be had. Further exploration into it's significance proves to be fruitless; the substance is as hollow as the liner notes’ 12 blank pages and as meaningless as Birgisson's fabricated 11-syllable language. Still, some of these songs are mesmerizing enough that the implicit meaning doesn’t even matter; the listener can apply any heartbreak, sorrow or joy s/he wants to and it'll work. In that way, the concept (or lack thereof) reflects the music perfectly. ( ) is composed of blank emotional blackboards, waiting to be chalked on.

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