Monday, November 12, 2007

Album Review:
Sigur Rós - Hvarf-Heim

Grade: 78%........................................."

"Halfsol" - mp3

Under my “Genre” column, ITunes has deemed Hvarf-Heim “Unclassifiable.” The term could suit any Sigur Rós album, right along with dreamy, escapist, bleak, dense, sparse, ephemeral, crystalline, wasteland, wonderland. Hvarf-Heim may not be the band’s most accomplished effort, but proves the perfect aperitif for that post-Takk, pre-next-album transition.

The eleven tracks appear on two EPs: Hvarf, or “Disappeared,” ones that disappeared, aka never made it into the band’s catalog; and Heim, or “Home,” reworkings of old favorites.

First-out-of-the-gate “Salka” sounds like a ( )-era number, which might prove a turn off for listeners burnt out on Jonsi’s wailing “E-sai-you.” (Apparently this is the only word in the made-up Hopelandic language -- does this seem like a wasted opportunity to anyone else?) The band picks up the pace with “Hjamalind,” then blasts us with “I Gær,” one of the album’s finest stampeding moments. Yet disc one’s show-stopper, literally, is the ten-minute closer “Hafsol,” whose plucked strings and flutes and e-bows evoke the bombastic epics of Ágætis Byrjun. “Hafsol” buoys, and more to the point, justifies the album.

Disc two commences with “Untitled #3” (under its "real" name “Samskeyti”), the album’s only real “D’uh” moment. The completely faithful version of a piano-only track left this listener wondering, “Why bother?” “Staralfur,” though by no means superior to the album version, sees Jonsi’s vocals at their most tender (See: four-minute mark. Feel: shivers). Ágætis' gorgeous titular track receives an equally elegant send-up here, a Heim highlight along with a recording of “Von” that crushes the original and Hvarf versions under its mighty steel-toed boot.

With Sigur Rós, criticisms seem like nitpicking. I’m reminded of that late-semester freshman paper. There’s always that A-student who spends a semester proving himself. Then he hands in a perfunctory final paper that, while not his best work, evinces potentiality glimmering under the surface, ready to be mined when he comes up for air.

Sigur Rós: Take this C+ in stride. Relax, enjoy your break. I'll see you next semester.


SonicRyan said...

I keep hearing how Hvarf is compiled of songs that were never recorded, but its not true. "Hafsol" has not only been recorded before, its been recorded at least twice. The first version is on Von. The band reworked it completely and threw it in their live sets. It soon became one of their most popular live songs. Anyone who has heard me talk about a Sigur Ros show has heard me mention the song where the bass player uses a drumstick. This is the song I'm talking about.

Because the song was so popular with fans and concert-goers, Sigur Ros re-recorded it for the Hoppípolla single. I never heard that version, so I'm not sure if the one on Hvarf is the same or yet another re-recording. Either way, its pretty fucking great, though I still prefer witnessing it live.

SonicRyan said...

I just realized how condescending my previous comment came across. I did not intend it to be that way, especially to you, Nicole, because I know for a fact you've just been reading the same stuff about the album that I have. Had I not been such a big fan of the song in question, I probably would have never known either. In short, I hope you didn't take the comment the wrong way. Blog love!

Femme Fatale said...

Well we all know "Von" has certainly been recorded before... apparently they thought two more versions were needed!