erhaps right now, some way through the year 2005, we’re witnessing something huge. We’re experiencing options, choices, new levels of technological development combined with widespread accessibility. Actively listening to music is something that has become ever easier: the sheer number of ways in which one may purchase songs is slowly reducing the financial burden of musical media whilst simultaneously exposing a wider audience to a wider selection of genres, eras, influences. Some may still find it difficult to hear what they want—folk-electronica still isn’t riding high in mainstream radio playlists, and you still have to shell out extra for “speciality” CDs on the high street. Conversely, the unusual is becoming less so because we are sharing, opening our eyes, ears and wallets—the power of the consumer is raising everybody’s game. So whilst pursuing new and innovative sounds may still appear superficially difficult and niche, there has never been a greater number of methods to gain access to some sort of higher musical plateau.
In such a climate then, perhaps there has never been a better time to be Sigur Rós. Three full-length studio albums into their career, turning the huge critical acclaim their discs have always attracted into commercial success (audience numbers, exposure, sales) appears to be a very real prospect. It is surely testament to the band’s technological relevance that Takk’s lead single “Glósóli” was an Internet-only release—and one that will undoubtedly fare better in the digital, rather than physical, realm. And, coming in on the back of a self-conscious two-minute introduction (as if a track comprising of layer upon build upon layer upon increased tempo definition doesn’t carry its own warning of the tempestuous noises to come), “Glósóli” is a perfectly executed prelude to chaos.
What the introductory piece does for the listener is act as some sort of musical sorbet, neutralising one’s emotions, responses and heart rate created by whatever you saw or did or heard or felt before. All of this in order for Takk… to get a clear shot at your senses. And if “Introduction” is preparation, then “Glósóli” is microcosm, for Takk is in many ways a much darker record than any of the band’s previous work, with tempestuous conclusions and moody, almost pouty endeavours making up the bulk of its content.
Of course, many of these pieces offer their own interpretations of ecstasy, but by methods far removed from those improved in the past. Where we felt elevated and indeed airborne during the climax to “Starálfur,” or merrily roused by the choir’s contribution to “Olsen Olsen,” “Gong” (the current live favourite amongst fans) seems to excel in turmoil, sheer negative energy inherent in its staccato-ed percussion and ghostly falsetto. Perhaps the greatest example of this all-encompassing downward force is “Sæglópur.” A piece that begins on piano, sweetly punctuated with glockenspiel and non-specific effects, sternly administering mental images of clinging to rotting trees and to hope, screaming against the eye of the storm. Several minutes later the piece then descends into relative tranquillity, orchestral melancholy. It is seven and a half minutes long. In the most wonderful way, it feels like all your life.
Takk does have some of those more upbeat, heart-warming moments that made Sigur Rós more of an experience than an experiment. “Hoppípolla” and the reprising “Með Blóðnasir” offers righteous strings and brass, combining to create the evangelical sounds favoured on breakthrough LP Ágætis Byrjun. I always felt as if those moments of triumph in the band’s music were the focal points, the “good stuff” you waited for and wanted to arrive and then stay forever. This time around though, they appear to have taken a backseat to the band’s darker impulses, and staggeringly, Takk sounds all the better for it.
I always marvel at the irony that Sigur Rós, one of the most inventive modern musical outfits in the world today, have such a bog-standard rock band line-up. It’s the same irony ingrained in the thought that, if I were to describe the formula for many of the band’s most effective songs, I’d probably detail pop music’s most unimaginative structural mantra: quiet bit-loud bit-quiet bit-loud. Perhaps they don’t sound so innovative when I put it like that, but I guess while you’re discovering new ways to distribute your material to the masses, you still have to give great consideration to what the people want. And the people simply must want this.
Reviewed by: Colin Cooper
Reviewed on: 2005-09-13