What we know about Sigur Rós (see-gore rose):
-The Iceland-based band is so named for lead vocalist Jónsi Birgisson’s sister, Sigurrós, whose name literally translates to “victory rose.”
-Jónsi and co. will often sing in a haunting, ethereal language they made up, one they call “Hopelandic” (“Vonlenska” in Icelandic). In their later works, they do sing in English, but there’s something truly whimsical about Hopelandic. It’s a “feel” language a la what singers do to harmonize a song for which they have no lyrics. It’s pretty inspiring in a way.
-Their bio describes their overall sound as “post-rock,” and I guess I could see that for the most part, but they waver between post-rock and dream pop and shoegaze so often, it’s hard to stick to one label.
-Fair warning: completely unpronounceable track titles and a slightly-less-but-still-difficult to pronounce band name approach.
The thing is though: I like to think of Sigur Rós as something of a mystery. I only know what Jónsi looks like because of his fascinating, discolored lazy eye (which is way cooler than it sounds). When Ágætis Byrjun was released in 1999, it totally threw me for a loop. I hadn’t heard such crazy ambient jams before.
Since then, they’ve release” a bunch of pretty good, happy music. It’s uplifting. I saw Jónsi’s self-titled act (I can’t call it solo because he had a bunch of people on stage with him) on Halloween 2010 in Atlanta, and the sights and sounds left me awestruck. Really talented guy.
And VON, their debut full-length (caution: freaky cover alert), is really where it all began. Feels a little bit like junior high in a way: feeling out what type of person (band) you will become, and who you’ll hang out with (sound like). Except, don’t get caught up in drugs (radio rock).
As the story (Wiki) goes, VON was paid for in exchange for the band painting the studio in which it was recorded. So, just remember when you listen to it, kids: contact highs really do pay off.
VON’s opening track, titled the same as the band, is an ambling, 10-minute song more befitting as the background for horror film b-roll than it is for a band whose early attempts at the post-rock sound compete on the same album (!) with The Bends-era Radiohead and Mellon Collie-era Smashing Pumpkins. “Sigur Rós” – the song, and I suppose the band as well – is just… strange.
“Oögun” (English: “Dawn”) is maybe, perhaps, mayhaps how Icelandic whales communicate. Are there whales off the coast of mainland Iceland? If not, this comparison is screwed. Either way, it’s mostly forgettable.
“Hún jör› …” (“Mother Earth”) has some super creative guitar. Very Smashing Pumpkins-esque. The most rock-n-roll the band has ever gotten to this point. It’s an album highlight for sure.
“Myrkur” (“Darkness”)– could almost be a word, but it also could be called “early Radiohead.”
“18 sekúntur fyrir sólarupprás” is an 18-second long silent interlude and literally translates to “18 seconds before sunrise.” Cool way to break up the rest of the album, too.
“Hafsól” (“The Sea’s Sun” – or, possibly, “The Season”) is much more reminiscent of a Sigur Ros song, but takes a turn near the end and ends up sounding like a Mars Volta b-side. That’s good, if you’re into that kind of thing.
“Veröld n‡ og ó›” somehow manages to sound like the squirrels currently inhabiting the area above the ceiling where I live. Should really call my landlord about them. OR it sounds like when you take a guitar pick in the space beneath a bass guitar’s pickups but still plugged into an amp. You’re not actually playing anything, you’re just making noise.
You can’t actually play the bass guitar.
Either way, there’s something very tribal about its syncopation.
The title track “Von” (“Hope”) continues the tribal drum theme from track previous. Super mellow.
“Mistur” (“Mist” – go figure) has some dope windchime sounds, but it’s more like an elongated interlude than a track.
“Syndir Gu›s (opinberun frelsarans)” (English: “Sins of God (Revelation of the Savior)”) is ever so reminiscent of “Olsen Olsen” from Ágætis Byrjun, their next release. Perhaps some early inspiration for the track. It’ll make you feel warm – in essence, quite good.
VON is a compelling glimpse into the band’s earliest form, and I don’t think it’s out of the realm of plausibility to say it’s the most “normal” they have, and will ever sound.
Standout tracks: “Hún jör› …,” “Myrkur,” and “Syndir Gu›s (opinberun frelsarans)
Weakest track: Surprisingly? “Sigur Rós”
RIYL: Shoegaze, dream pop, post-rock I guess. Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, This Will Destroy You, múm, Jónsi solo/Jónsi & Alex.