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Sigur Rós's 'Gobbledigook'

Captivating, accessible, Icelandic music that defies its unwieldy title.

By Thom Wong 12 Jun 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong is a drone in Her Majesty's Service. He writes regularly about music for The Tyee, and can be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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Fifth album, 'Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust,' out next week.

For a country with a population smaller than a mid-size Canadian city, Iceland has produced a disproportionate number of critically acclaimed musicians: Björk, GusGus, Múm... actually, that's almost it. And it's probably not a stretch to say that if a certain British band hadn't taken a shine to them, Sigur Rós would be wallowing in similar obscurity to fellow Icelandic noisemakers Cynic Guru. Remember their hit, "Doom Master"? No? Interesting...

If you were conscious in 1999, and reading really egotistical music magazines like Ray Gun, you might remember Ágætis byrjun, and how it became that album it was really cool to own, but that no one ever actually listened to it. It had all the requisite ingredients: incomprehensible name, singer who sounded like a whale and sang in a made-up language, long instrumentals with spooky string sections. Naturally I loved it, and still consider it one of my 25 desert-island albums.

Recently Sigur Rós released a tour DVD, Heima, which chronicled the band members' two-week trek through their homeland, staging free concerts and performing in schools and coffee shops. The trailer still gives me goose bumps, but I'm a sucker for sweeping vistas, accents and hand lettering. It displays a band at the height of its powers, so to speak, captivating crowds that, apart from the allure of a free concert, might otherwise never have listened to them. (Watch the faces of the children in the crowd as they become absolutely captivated.)

Now the band is set to release its fifth LP, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, which, according to the website, translates as "with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly," and which is currently streaming for free. The first single "Gobbledigook," and many other tracks, is available as a download.

It might seem odd to say this about an album with such an unwieldy title, but this could be Sigur Rós's most accessible album to date. "Gobbledigook" channels The Flaming Lips with slippery acoustic guitars, foot-stomping percussion and what sounds like chanting from outer space. "Góðan Daginn" is what passes for a ballad in the Sigur Rós universe.

Of course, this accessibility might come at the cost of what made Sigur Rós so interesting in the first place. Or as one friend put it, "It's like Radiohead going to their back catalogue, but ignoring Kid A or OK Computer and mining The Bends instead. Not a bad thing... but a little disappointing."

Perhaps it was in sensing this lack of musical innovation that the band turned to photographer Ryan McGinley to shoot the above album cover and inspire the naked romp of a first video.

Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust officially comes out June 23. Sigur Rós's only scheduled tour stop in B.C. is at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre on Sept. 27, 2008.

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