Throwback Thursday – “()” by Sigur Ros

() by Sigur Ros

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  First I was off traveling for a couple of weeks, then getting back into the swing of things.  Finally, entries resume.

This week instead of reminiscing about summers past, I’m remembering an album that calls to mind freezing temperatures and short days.  It’s not that I’m ready for the dead of winter by any means, but a song from this album came up on shuffle for me recently, and I recalled that it was the album that first made me fall in love with epic, instrumental post-rock.

I’ve never talked to anyone who knows what the title of this album is.  Some pronounce () simpy as “Untitled.”  This makes it very hard to search for, but naming an album with empty parentheses is likely an artistic statement which Sigur Ros intended to make.  What that statement is, I’m not sure.  I do know that this is one of their darkest albums, sonically speaking.  Some have posited that it represents the emptiness felt by members of the band during that period of their lives, a hypothesis which I believe has merit.  All but a select few moments on the album are brooding, ethereal, and even ominous.

While the album was released in 2002, I first came across it as winter approached in late 2009.  Early nightfall was perfectly accompanied by the ambient, yet deeply emotional sounds of this album.  As with other seasons of my life, mistakes and relational situations weighed heavy on my heart.  The shortening days didn’t help my mood, but this album connected on a level deeper than words could describe.

As with most of Sigur Ros’s work, the vocals are not the feature.  Or they are, but no one can understand them.  In fact, on this album, they’re mostly indiscernible noise, but in a beautiful way.  Some have said that front-man Jonsi is singing in a made-up language.  While that may be, track after track, his haunting falsetto captures as much emotion as could be expected from words which can’t be understood.  In this regard, it’s odd that I love this album as much as I do.  Typically, lyrics are a huge part of what makes a song click for me.  In this case, the music is so good that it happens not to matter.  Discernible or not, the intent is clearly conveyed in the vocals.  Part of me wishes there were profound lines to accompany the instrumentation, but I realize that in this case, that isn’t necessary.

As is common in the genre, tracks routinely reach the ten-minute mark.  In fact, not a single song is under six minutes.  This is music that needs to be mulled and digested, not tossed on the radio for a quick hit and a few bucks.  Still, this particular album is dynamic enough that I wouldn’t consider it background music.  The final track (affectionately labeled as “Untitled 8”) builds from somber vocals punctuated with toms to a furious, aggressive finish, including the most powerful drumming of the album.  I remember lying on the floor at my duplex on Battery Lane, listening to the track through the 1970s stereo my dad gave me as the darkness outside quietly fell around the house.

The album would go on to typify that freezing and lonely winter with its somber and atmospheric sounds.  Today it reminds me of the power of music in and of itself, apart from lyrical content.

You can find the layered and emotional post-rock of () on Spotify and Amazon.

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Review – “Kings EP” by The Sleep Design

kings_ep_cover

I first came across The Sleep Design via their radical label Come and Live earlier this year.  I check the site every so often since all of the albums are pay-what-you-want, and I’ve discovered some awesome music.  When I picked up their full-length, “All That Is Not Music Is Silence,” I tossed it into my library and put it on as background music every now and then.  It was good, but I wasn’t really listening for content, even if the title was thought-provoking.  With the recent release of “Kings EP,” however, I am paying much closer attention to the music and enjoying it quite a bit.

The Sleep Design is an instrumental band out of Nashville and Birmingham.  To one not acquainted with ambient, instrumental, or post-rock music, there may not be much that stands out.  (Truth be told, I’m not enough of a connoisseur to pick out more than a handful of bands distinctively.)  But that doesn’t mean that they do not create well-crafted, beautiful music.  The biggest thing that stood out to me on the five-song offering was the use of dynamic shifts.  With such music, it can be hard to find a good balance between droning ambience and jarring transitions.  I believe The Sleep Design pull this off as well as any band I’ve heard on the “Kings EP.”

At the outset, the listener is greeted by a reverb-washed guitar, but it’s not long before a more passionate moment incorporating the entire band arises from the depths and takes over the song before sentimentally trailing off at the close of the track.  Throughout the album, the spacey instrumental drop-outs are well-timed, leaving one feeling the weight of the music and anticipating the next turn.  At the same time, there are enough surprises to keep the listener engaged.  Unique instrumentation arises here and there to add sonic variation, and complex melodious interchanges between the two guitars and bass could take several listens to wrap one’s mind around. I find that songs transition well one to another and “make sense” as an album. Lastly, the production quality is also great, including some fabulous guitar tones.

The one caveat for me, personally, is the titles.  I find titles to be even more important within an album when lyrics are not present.  This helps me to determine if there is a scene I should envision to go with the music and to connect with what the artist intended.  On “Kings EP,” the titles are somewhat vague, as well as the album title as a whole.  The exception is the closing track, “When We Meet,” which I think beautifully portrays a moment of reunion between two people, or between sinner and savior.  In the grand scheme, however, I understand this is a nit-picky issue.

Overall, I give “Kings EP” a 4/5.  While not breaking entirely new ground, it is a great representation of the genre.  It’s dynamic and interesting enough that you may not want to use it simply as background noise, and it is exactly the kind of album I would put on while going for a night drive.

Kings EP” is available as a free download via Come and Live.