Sigur Rós - ( )
It's really quite difficult to know where to begin but one suspects that was the intention all along. For, barring the scribble that is Sigur Rós's logo on the white plastic slipcase, the black-and-white drawing of a child that serves as the band's logo and their website address, there is little to identify the nature of naming of the music contained on the stark, white CD that this package holds within it.
Lasting a shade over seventy minutes and comprised of eight untitled songs, which last from 6m33s to 13m00s, ( ) was recorded without the rich musical textures of the band's previous album, Ágætis Byrjun. The funereal pace of the music is still in place but the layering of their sound with the string quartet Amina is now largely absent or at least pushed to the background. Instead, the sound offered on ( ) is one in individual instruments are given the time to slowly break through the gentle flow of each track to bring a focus to the music. Track 3, for example, features a circular piano motif that drifts into hearing after 59 seconds, which, prior to that moment, had featured only a sound that is best described as the humming of instruments finding form.
The album is structured into two distinct halves, separated by thirty seconds of silence. According to the band's website, the first half is light and optimistic whereas the second half is bleaker and, to an extent, there is truth in this statement. That is not, however, to say that Tracks 1 through 4 are what one would call pop music but there is a hopefulness about them that Tracks 5 to 8 lack. This second half of the album - the longer of the two - is a more fragile and melancholy selection of tracks, fading the strings into the background to be replaced by brittle guitars, drums that are slowly thumped and keyboards that prickle and close in on themselves - excluding the listener rather than embracing them as before. Even Jónsi Birgisson's voice, tender and warm on the first half, is more harsh and less welcoming on the second; not angry, as such, but fearful. If one half of the album tells of finding hope through someone or something, the other half speaks of the sense of loss one feels following its passing.
Lyrically, each song on ( ) is made up of the noises, snatched samples and echoes that Sigur Rós call hopelandic, treating the voice as just another instrument with which to add textures to the sound. This absence of words is not, however, at all disconcerting. Instead, it fits the music perfectly, recalling Side Two of Low, where David Bowie mixed his voice into the strings and burbling synthesisers of Warszawa.
( ) is an album that contains few standout moments and it's unlikely that you will be telling friends to check out individual tracks. Instead, this is music that bears comparison to watching storm clouds roll by - occasionally the sun breaks through and lights up the landscape around you but for the most, your senses are fixed on interpreting the swirling and unpredictable patterns in the sky above you. As such, each time ( ) is heard, the experience will be somewhat different - this album exists to tease out emotions much more than it does to impress one onto the listener and as much as the music is often heard to aimlessly drift from the speakers or headphones, there are a sufficient number of harsh, brittle moments to ensure ( ) is not thought of as little more than background music.
( ) is the sound of a band who have almost disappeared. Like the absence of information that is impressed upon the artwork, ( )'s music is similarly lacking an intent to inform, being little more than a soundtrack within which the listener can find their own meaning to it. What is found there will say more about the person who discovers it than it ever will about Sigur Rós.
Personally, I cannot recommend this album highly enough. Sigur Rós are a truly remarkable band and this release is their best attempt at capturing the sound and the relationship between the band and audience that had always been hinted it. In stripping away meaning, Sigur Rós have produced their most complete album yet and whilst they risked turning their music into little more than blank, shapeless ideas, what they have actually produced is outstanding.
Note: The links to downloadable tracks in this review link to www.sigurros.com and have been made available with agreement from the band and their record label. Other samples are downloadable from this site.