On a recent trip to Iceland, ostensibly to promote my book Iceland, Defrosted but really any excuse to visit Iceland, see friends and drink local beer, I spent several days listening to Kveikur the new album from Sigur Rós.
There may not be a better place to listen to Sigur Rós than Iceland, but Kveikur hasn’t had an easy ride. It’s had mixed reviews, constant references to the departure of Kjartan Sveinsson and whether their last album Valtari was simply Sigur Rós on autopilot. It seemed fair then, to give Kveikur a chance.
Here are my thoughts on Kveikur, track by track.
‘Brennisteinn’—debuted at Iceland Airwaves last November, ‘Brennistein’ still sounds terrifying. It sounds like a Velociraptor growling from your kitchen cupboards, before exploding into something much more joyous.
‘Hrafntinna’—initially, I thought this was nothing more than filler, but I’m gradually starting to enjoy it more and more. Try to think of it as a goodbye to Valtari-style Sigur Rós complete with morose brass ending.
‘Ísjaki’—Sigur Rós sound more vibrant than ever. Valtari is a distant memory. Just rips along, and has the most delicious string refrain that reminds me of The Sleepy Jackson. Look them up.
‘Yfirborð’—Brennistein’s evil little brother. At once foreboding, with a slowed down Jónsi yawn, and yet as intense as it is exhilarating. Surely one to stay on Sigur Rós playlists for years to come.
‘Stormur’—This sounds like an extra from Jónsi’s solo Go project. All happy chiming and strings, it’s nothing new but it’s passable Sigur Rós.
‘Kveikur’—In stark contrast to ‘Stormur,’ it’s introduction verges on industrial before bristling with energy. Kveikur sounds urgent, raw and suitable for sending all those ‘Hoppípolla’ loving wedding couples scurrying for cover.
‘Rafstraumur’—My favourite track on Kveikur. It sounds like Sigur Rós doing The National, but instead of Matt Berninger’s plaintive voice, Jónsi lends delicious vocals. This is Sigur Rós being a band, not an ambient music sound system. It’s going to be good fun in a live setting. Press repeat.
‘Bláþráður’—maybe this will grow on me too. At the moment it sounds too much like Sigur Rós by numbers. Yeah, it’s ok, but it doesn’t live up to the bands defining moments, or the better tracks on Kveikur.
‘Var’—A small slice of the Sigur Rós that we know and love. Sad and pretty piano providing a perfectly fitting ending to this journey.
I think Kveikur is a triumph. It sounds like a band having fun for a change, and that comes through. Kveikur feels alive. It could be argued that the album was written with a live set in mind, but I don’t much care. This is the sound of Sigur Rós at their most vital in a long time. Turn it up loud and rejoice in the return of Sigur Rós as a band.