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Music Critique: Sigur Rós Returns with ‘Eight’

Let’s cut to the chase – Sigur Rós’ latest creation, ‘Eight’ (‘ÁTTA’), is an otherworldly masterpiece that hardly needs an introduction. Whether the news reached you a year back when the album was a mere promise, earlier this week through their single ‘Blood Mountain’ (‘Blóðberg’), yesterday’s formal announcement, or at this very moment – the anticipation couldn’t be more palpable. What bears reminding, though, is that ‘Eight’ marks the group’s grand reemergence after a decade-long hiatus. Despite the silence, the band remained in the collective consciousness through a smattering of mixtapes, standalone tracks, commemorative editions, a solo endeavor from frontman Jónsi, and unforgettable live shows. Each offering was a discreet peek at what was brewing, but none could replace the immersive experience of a complete Sigur Rós album. It’s upon starting ‘Eight’ that one recalls the depth and ambitious scope absent since their prior releases, a sonic experience far beyond a fleeting throwback that a movie soundtrack might induce. The fusion of their ethereal symphonies and poignant vocal expression, though perpetually elusive, can never be replicated, only yearned for.

Might the lack of drastic stylistic evolution be the essence of this magnificent return – stirring nostalgia without rival in the current music scene? When Kjartan Sveinsson, the multi-talented band member who parted ways in 2012 only to return, met Jónsi in Los Angeles, they hadn’t planned to craft a new album; yet it emerged as though summoned from some ethereal realm. Introspective themes simmer below the surface. As Jonsí explained, the creation of ‘Eight’ took place against a backdrop of societal anxiety over climate change and pervasive global unease. “The world felt a bit bleak making this album,” stated Sveinsson, suggesting that after enduring the trials of recent years, something ‘nice’ was long overdue. When it comes to Sigur Rós, however, ‘nice’ seems a vast understatement, their sound defying the shortcomings of language.

Should the album contend with anything less than extraordinary, it would signal foreboding times indeed. But rest assured, it is uniformly spectacular. Listeners yearning for the raw directness of their 2013 album, ‘Kveikur’, may find this return to a gentler and more enigmatic style startling. Yet, ‘Eight’ is best absorbed as a continuous, evolving masterpiece, deftly measured in its delivery and cadence. The journey begins with ‘Glow’ (‘Glóð’), a dazzling introduction, followed by ‘Blood Mountain,’ where Jonsí’s voice engages in an intimate ballet with the regal arrangements of the London Contemporary Orchestra under the baton of Robert Ames. Though evoking their earlier albums, it’s a bold venture in its own right.

Adjusting to the absence of drummer Orri Páll Dýrason, ‘Eight’ stands out for its seamless and deliberate approach. Beyond ‘Blood Mountain,’ the album’s demeanor is one of recovery, gathering strength from a place of desolation. It retreats inward, occasionally gazing heavenward, offering vital flares of optimism. ‘Cliff’ (‘Klettur’) introduces a rhythmic heartbeat, lending a graciously welcomed substance in a largely light album; yet its true eloquence emerges in the hushed moments, with strings that span the cosmos. On ‘Shell’ (‘Skel’), identified by Jonsí as “the emotional song,” a poignant tension swells and recedes, allowing its resonance to linger. ‘Gold’, possibly one of the band’s most heartfelt compositions, is hauntingly subtle, with discernible phrases like “anyway,” and “all,” suffusing the listener with an emotional tangle that cannot be easily undone.

In its inception, ‘Eight’ toys with a dynamism that only resurfaces as the album concludes, challenging the notion of musical momentum. The sense of satisfaction found in serene tracks like ‘Downy’ (‘Ylur’) makes it difficult to pine for louder disruptions, even if the album leans more towards sheer beauty than the explosive energy of their past offerings. And while it would be folly to impose a story upon Sigur Rós’ sonic tapestry, the album’s finale achieves an exquisite symmetry not from a grand climax, but rather through a sense of holistic balance. Even in the ostensibly somber ‘Fall’, the album’s components unite, shining brighter and with more substance than earlier in ‘Blood Mountain’. Here, ‘Eight’ feels like a refreshing, invigorating inhalation, one that transcends any preconceptions and invites a feeling of renewal before a single note is heard.

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