May 25, 2012 Issue #41 - Yeasayer
The good news is, with a Sigur Rós album, you know what you're getting into. The bad news is...oh, come on, you thought there was truly any bad news associated with a new Sigur Rós album? The blessing and the curse of Valtari is that the band neither runs their ethereal formula off the rails nor aspires to be anything greater than the sum of their previous albums. As a result, the band's first studio release in four years glides along with the grace we've come to associate from the Scandinavian quartet—without ever plunging to new and exciting depths.
Valtari's title translates to the Icelandic word for steamroller, but the album is the opposite of its namesake—a lighter-than-air affair that lands with the intensity of a feather. A return to both ambient compositions and the band's made-up language Hopelandic after twin forays into pop and English in Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, it's a slow moving climb, which, in itself, isn't a bad thing. The only place this proves to be an out-and-out negative attribute is the title track, which wanders its way into endless abstraction.
Normally at their best when mining melodrama and layering elements sky-high, often the tried and true Sigur Rós formula sounds like just that-a formula. Potential album anthem "Rembihnútur" sounds not unlike a paint-by-numbers retread of frontman Jónsi's superb solo outing (2010's Go)—more suited to a Disney film than the subtleties of a Sigur Rós album.
The quiet moments speak volumes. Album standout "Varúð" burns like hot embers, an understated piano line and discordant strings allowing frontman Jónsi's otherworldly voice to carry the bulk of the emotion, buffeted by the ghostly refrains of an all-girl choir. Likewise, the bare-bones elegance of "Ekki Múkk" highlights the band's mastery of subtlety, allowing Jónsi's whisper to do most of the heavy lifting. A pretty set of songs, but this time out, it appears that Sigur Rós's reach has failed to exceed their grasp, resulting in an album that is simply good rather than outstanding. (www.sigur-ros.co.uk)
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 7/10
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