Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do
hen I saw Sigur Ros in Minneapolis a couple of years ago, their follow-up to Agaetis Byrjun was still several months away. They played material from what would eventually be ( ), but the music was almost secondary. Amidst a slowly evolving series of aqua-marine shaded lights, a filmscreen behind stage played what seemed like childhood home-videos turned black and blue, flipped head-over-heels into their negatives. A string quartet on a slightly elevated stage groaned away under the black-and-gray hues of the film; it was impossible to steady your eyes on any single aspect of their midnight fete. They relied on eye-witnessed escapism, the sort of peculiar, slowly-framed accident scene where every witness reports seeing something different and none of the details match up. Their bewildering stage show combined with their lost-child soundscapes to form one of the most intoxicating live shows I’ve ever seen. When I listen to Sigur Ros’ new EP, Ba ba Ti Ki Di do, I can’t help but remember this sensual Saturnalia and think that the performance here seems so vacant without the accompaniment of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for whose Split Sides performance these ‘songs’ were originally created.
Most of the material seems almost completely inert musically, as Sigur Ros trade in their engulfing guitars and Jon Thor Birgisson’s permanent-midnight moan for chopped-up vocal snippets and music boxes. If instruments were found in nature, this album would have been created by those claimed from a windswept meadow outside Lausanne. Chilly and precise, it embodies the kind of random stirring of sound that only nature can create. It’s almost rhythmic and mathematical. Yet, even with its relatively concise origins, the music seems content to swoop over you instead of through you. The first track, “Ba ba”, sets a good template for the album. A splintered music box picks up speed in the dark, like it’s the only thing left after a fire. Yet, as soon as it makes a subtle surge to demand your attention, it dies away, too timid to ask anything of you.
After the similarly-constructed second track, “Di do” begins to come of age. The first chimes plink underneath a growing wind of static and moaning vocals. Patches of vocals are cut-up to sound like an ethereal chant, and they mount with the background humming to form a post-modern Black Mass. Like a wild creature clawing down a cabin door, the song’s clanking percussion backs the haunting electronic chants as they rise towards a demented, apocalyptic frenzy. Musically, it shares the Walpurgis hysteria of The Liars’ latest. In film, this is all William Friedken.
With this final track, Sigur Ros manages to save this album from future obscurity. Whereas most EPs tend to nudge the attention of fans and music appreciators into a group’s future path, not much can be gleaned from this one. Considering it was never designed for audiophile consumption alone, perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Neither a prophetic forward move nor a complete abandonment, the disc is a semi-swallowable addition to the Sigur Ros we’ve already consumed with such pleasure. Hell, I guess that makes it the musical equivalent of gargling your own backwash. Have a try.