Sigur Rós – Valtari
by Nick Hugon (International Affairs), published June 21st 2012
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Expectations. They come with the territory, I suppose, when your music arrives with the words “Sigur Rós” scrawled across the sleeve. From this band, everything is heightened. Everything registers differently for the modern anglophone listener. Sigur Rós emerges from whatever Arctic fog they’ve been hiding behind, hits you with something positively dripping with genius, and recedes again into absolute nothingness. And it’s the most awful tease, because they’ve been gone for so long, they give you something so reminiscent of something familiar and adored, and then they go away, just like they did last time. And you didn’t even understand a word of what they said.
In this way, Valtari is already history. It will be remembered as nothing more than a pleasant, thoroughly unobtrusive anecdote in the story of the most mysterious band in the world – a band that shuns celebrity and has nothing to shout its own praises aside from its music. When people look back on this band, they’ll hail Ágætis byrjun as the record that redefined a genre, or Takk… as one of the most tangibly emotive albums of the 2000s. They might even remember ( ) as the album without a title or lyrics in a real language. Obviously I’m not writing from the year 2025, but if I had to give Valtari such a categorization, I’d say, “Well… Valtari was a really enjoyable record.” The album has no tiring moments; no overdone catharses–it just doesn’t bombard with a quantity of sonic fortitude that would pin you to a wall. And, unfortunately for Sigur Rós, that’s really the expectation they’re dealing with whenever they introduce new material.
Valtari comprehensively lacks the sedimentary delivery that has so typified the group’s most brilliant work. The layers of production aren’t as definite, which is probably deliberate, as the band has said the new music is designed to figuratively plow the listener over with a steadier – rather than layered – sound. But the tactic isn’t entirely convincing; Sigur Rós’ most energetic moments have always been walls of sound, and the beauty of these moments have been manifested in the underlying intricacies and delicate harmonies within the cacophony. On the whole, Valtari steers clear of harmonious motifs – even Jónsi’s vocals, the band’s most recognizable asset, are used only sparingly. The result of all this is an album that is certainly worthwhile and enjoyable, but lacks some of the impossibly distinctive features of Sigur Rós.
But that’s the really tough part: it’s so close. It is still Sigur Rós, just not a great record by Sigur Rós. It’s good, and it’s what you’ve waited so long for, and it’s just enough of a taste of the familiarity of Takk… or Ágætis that you’re left with a thoroughly irritating itch for more. But of course, you can’t have that. Sigur Rós is gone again, just like last time. So listen to Valtari a few more times, and then move on. In all honesty, Valtari doesn’t warrant much more than a hastily scrawled check-mark.
Recommended Tracks: Varúð, Dauðalogn, Valtari