Music Review: Sigur Rós' Hvarf-Heim

by Vincent Lee
Special to iVoryTowerz

Language is frequently a barrier. In conversation, it can prevent people from communicating. In music, taking away language may hurt the profound meaning of some songs. However, with the band Sigur Rós they not only avoid the harm the language barrier might cause, but choose to transcend their own language. Though they typically sing in their native Icelandic language, they sometimes choose to sing in what they call hopelandic. A language that is considered vocal gibberish. In other words, no language at all.

On their latest double album Hvarf-Heim, language is not an issue at all. The record is two discs, spanning more than an hour. The first disc, Hvarf, is a collection of previously unreleased songs. An assortment of acoustic recordings encompasses the second disc. This description makes the album sound like your standard loose ends album, full of reject songs and maybe one or two solid numbers. This is certainly not the case. Each song is unique and develops in its own powerful way.

Although this is a collection of material from the band's out-takes, it feels like a new album through and through. Each song transitions into the next beautifully. It is a collection of mostly longer songs; all but two are more than five minutes. The extreme length of these songs might push away some listeners, but there is rarely a repetitive or boring moment within the songs.

The highlight of these two discs is “von.” At nine minutes it is the second longest song. The song slowly builds from a base of strings. Then lead singer jónsi’s voice* sets in and the song begins to really take off. The song travels on the base of jónsi’s voice and the original strings. Every other song is strong in its own right, but this would appear to be the main highlight.

Jónsi’s voice could easily be seen as another instrument. Few North American fans will be able to truly understand what he is saying, but many can appreciate the extreme falsetto in his voice. In this case, language is in no way a barrier. On Hvarf-Heim, Sigur Rós features a number of very strong songs. There is nothing especially “classic” or extraordinary about this album, but it is a pleasurable listen in many respects.

*Jón βor (jónsi) Birgisson is the lead singer of Sigur Rós.

(The promotional photo of Sigur Rós is from EMI Records. To see an excerpt from the new film Heima from Sigur Rós which includes "Salka" from
Hvarf-Heim, please check below.)

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