Sigur Ros - Agaetis byrjun - 2000


Sigur Ros is an excellent Icelandic band that mixes in its music diverse influences that makes their music something almost unclassifiable but really interesting that could define as “contemporary ambient rock."

Imagine for a moment a sound mixture of the most ambient and suggestive moments in the second Pink Floyd (“Atom Heart Mother” or “Meddle” -and in some brief instrumental fragments, “The Wall”), together with the more ambient and cold Eno, the majestic Tangerine Dream of “Phaedra” and the mutant krautrock of Can, the softest, shady and dark landscapes in Radiohead, Mercury Rev or Spiritualised, the intense sound outbursts and releases of instrumental might of Godspeed You Black Emperor, a celestial voice a la Cocteau Twins, and classic desperate minimalism a la Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, or Gorecki.

I can tell you this medley of influences and this long list of musical relations doesn't represent but just an approach to the sensations that these boys of the cold north transmit. Surprisingly, although surely these two groups do not know each other, if I had to choose a group of progressive rock to which compare Sigur Ros, I would choose for the likeness in their musical conception the most experimental spunds of White Willow, even if these Icelanders are not a pure example of progressive rock.


The group writes and sings in Icelandic and in a language invented by them, "hopelandish ", so little I can say about its lyrics and philosophies of life. Sigur Ros is formed by Jón Thór Birgisson (voice, guitar played with violin bow), Georg Holm (bass), Orri Páll Dýrason (drums), and Kjartan Sveinsson (keyboards). The most distinguishing feature of the group, besides its easiness to create all type of interesting and gelid sound landscapes, is the fabulous and inhuman voice of the singer's falseto. I can swear that the first time that I listened the album (and the following two or three ones, until I looked for more information on the group in Internet), I believed that he was a woman, not a man. With your friends, you can make a game: play them the first piece of the album, and ask them what they think about the singer, see what they say….

The disk, “Agaetis Byrjun” (“a new beginning") is seemingly the second album of the group, although the former seems to be difficult to find having only been published in Iceland. The first piece, “Into”, is a brief introduction of ambient music of Pinkfloydian inspiration (“Echoes”) and celestial choirs that opens the way to a great piece, “Svefn-g-englar” that starts with repetitive ambient lines in the style of Godspeed you Black Emperor or Mercury Rev's last album over which dense riffs of guitars are superimposed in its ten minutes of duration, Then, suddenly we meet with the singer's lonely voice that destroys your heart in a second (a marvel of tone rises and downs in the vocal melody of this song). The piece is on the whole an explosion that takes to ecstasy, and in which progheads will be able to recognize once again that these boys are really inspired in progressive music.

The third composition, “Starálfur”, is for me the masterpiece of the album, seven minutes where they mix all the wisdom of the music of the last hundred years. A classic beginning with a fascinating melody of keyboards and piano that doesn't stop to resonate during the whole suite (and that reminds me of the Finnish composer Rautavaara) over which a soft and celestial voice plays. We come closer now to “Flugufrelsarinn”, an example of the mixture of these guys' styles that now faces a more melodic pop piece, although with the rarity that represents a track sung in Icelandic and with a dark and obscure atmosphere that marks the musical background of this dense repetitive composition. The vocal line is again majestic -inherited directly of Cocteau Twins- and with some registrations really difficult to reach.

The eight minutes of “Ný batterí” begin in a soft jazzy base of winds that directs us toward a minimalist travel around the north of Europe, always accompanied by beautiful vocal melodies. The last three minutes accelerate the rhythm of the composition, in a nearer tone to Portishead. The sixth piece of the disk, “Hjartað hamast”, opens up in a lattice of dragged blues becoming a piece of ambient soul with references to Can or Spiritualised, and vocal melodies that are pure syrup in the ears. “Viðar vel tl loftárasa” is the most atmposheric contemporary sound song in the album, the one that can melt the ears of the lovers of Tangerine Dream or Pink Floyd, with some impressive piano structures and strings, very in the mood of Arvo Part or Philip Glass. The voice continues shaking my heart.

“Olsen Olsen” is another very atmospheric topic, with reminiscences of the most delicate White Willow, and a wonderful combination of voices, corals, flutes, an ensemble of romantic strings, a repetitive rhythm base and bass, that strikes you and devastates in its elegance. Classic music of the XXI century.

“Ágætis byrjun” the song is an atmospheric children’s song in the style of the last Radiohead, excellently structured with an exquisite mixture of piano, keyboards, and guitars, a sound landscape around which the voice of Jon slips, following its ascents and slopes. Finally, “Avalon” closes the album marvellously in a beautiful exercise of minimalism, in clear homage to the cold music of Part and Gorecki.


For lovers of ambient music and the classic contemporary minimalism, this album is a dream come true. Music without concessions, majestic, obscure, intense, dark, cold, but under which a light layer of hope beats. This record is specially recommended for those lovers of music that looks for new things and that are not satisfied with the most typical music. As I always say, this it is an example of progressive music, because it looks for progress and not for returns. Or like they say, “we are not a band, we are music, we will change the music forever, and the way in which people think about music"

author - date - rating - label

José Nafría - October 2000 -   - Fat Cat Records