A while back I posted a link to preview a lovely-looking documentary on Icelandic combo Sigur Rós. The stunning, hi-def shots of the band’s homeland and the unusual locations for the live performances were intriguing, despite the fact that their music has always bugged me. So it was with some interest that I awaited the band’s new double album, Hvarf/Heim, which comes out next Tuesday. Would it signal a musical evolution, finally allowing me to join my hipster friends in Sigur Rós adoration?
Nope. To be fair, the album isn’t entirely new, and is more like a double EP: part 1, Hvarf, consists of “lost” songs from earlier in their career (like, what did they do with them?), and Heim is an acoustic set of older songs. But listen to “Staralfur,” from the second EP, on their MySpace. The two-chord structure is just lazy, and the piano trills are so sappy they belong on a Hallmark Movie of the Week soundtrack. Lead singer Jónsi Birgisson sounds like an elf with a nasal infection, and when the track erupts into a supposedly climactic all-strings coda, you get every sad cliché from when a pop band writes for violins: naive, faux-tearjerky melodies, floating around the base of the chord. It sounds like the music from those “The More You Know” PSAs. Hvarf? Blarf!
Now, the accompanying film, Heima, shows that perhaps the Rós are best heard as an inoffensive soundtrack for affecting visuals. But if I ever have state secrets you want to get out of me, skip the waterboarding and go right for Hvarf/Heim at full volume. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.