Sigur Rós is perhaps the first (and only) Icelandic export to strike an international nerve since the Sugarcubes. You know those cute little moments when Björk bursts into her native tongue, screaming out for an armchair or some other inanimate object? Sigur Rós’s Ágætis Byrjun (“An Alright Start”) is an entire album of such gorgeousness for which you’ll need a pair of headphones and a napkin to wipe up your inevitable mess. Singer Jónsi Birgisson delivers harrowing primal caws throughout tracks like “Ný Batterí” and “Olsen Olsen” but there’s no telling what he’s saying. Cue choir. This is the music that breeds torture—or offers a release for it; is this unbridled joy or pre-breakdown elation? (Who knows? Ask surviving fans of Nirvana). The astounding “Starálfur” (“Staring Elf”) breaks the language and sound barrier, swelling into a stunning arrangement of strings and acoustic guitars that communicates a different kind of vernacular. “Hjartad hamast (bamm bamm bamm),” an electro-futuristic “Roadhouse Blues,” forges excitement via sonic heart palpitations and Birgisson’s restrained vocal, while the piano-driven “Vidrar Vel Til Loftárasa” evokes The Wall’s quieter moments of desperation. With a critically-lauded North American debut, three tracks heralded by director Cameron Crowe in his film Vanilla Sky, and the Shortlist prize under their belt, Sigur Rós are indeed off to an alright start.
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