This band is epic. Given the task of singing “Happy Birthday” at an 8 year old’s birthday party, they could likely stretch the performance several minutes with multiple movements involving choirs of children and the London Sinfionetta. (see Ara Bitur`) That is just the natural skill of this foursome from Iceland. And though they showcase that skill in several areas of their new album; med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust, they have expanded their repertoire with looser, shorter, more traditional songs this time around.
The first track/single “Gobbledigook” isn’t quite their attempt at Ipod commercial appeal, but at just over three minutes, they might finally get to play on Letterman. In fact, there are only four songs on the album clocking in past five minutes. The single uses heavy percussion, alternating acoustic guitar lines, and harmonized vocals to create something… fun. Somewhat of a departure from the glacial, sparse musical landscapes they have focused on with their past five albums.
Building on the same theme, the second track is Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur. Though accompanied with brass and string sections and a soaring vocal melody, the driving force in this track is the bassline, piano, and four on the floor drumbeat.
Fans of the traditional epic sounds of Sigur Ros will also find much to enjoy on endalaust. Five minutes into Festival, the bassline and steady kick drum start the final build. Symphonic horns and strings add from there. Vocal harmonies, additional horns, and seemingly whatever other instrument is lying around the studio, take hold of the simple melody and build it to a stunning climax.
For me, the peak of the album comes with the turning point in Ara Bitur at four and a half minutes through the song. A simple piano line is augmented with lightly struck bass, and Jonsi’ Birgisson’s repeating vocal is suddenly accompanied with an entire symphony and children’s choir. At its peak, the song features 90 musicians playing at once. Recorded in one take in the Abbey Road studio in London, this is most epic track on the album.
In several niches of popular music, you can find dramatic shifts in loud/soft dynamics with bands like Explosions in the Sky, or even certain tracks like “Everlong“ from the Foo Fighters, but songs like this show just how far above their contemporaries Sigur Ros can be. It is tough to describe the resulting energy in this song relative to where it begins. Just make sure you only listen to it on empty desert roads with no speed limit, or seated comfortably in your home. But turn it up.
So with endalaust, Sigur Ros have shown that while they can narrow their scope and create succinct, meaningful, and well constructed songs that open them up to shorter attention spans and wider appeal, they are still kings of the epic.