Sigur Rós Ágætis Byrjun (PIAS)
Agaetis Byrjun (PIAS)
Reviewed by Michael Chamy, Fri., June 8, 2001
Ágætis Byrjun (PIAS)They appeared suddenly, like the comet from the heavens that in ancient times marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Sigur Rós isn't the end of any era, but it may be the flourishing of a new one -- a new beacon in the marriage of raw human emotion and sublime layers of aural wallpaper until now commissioned so effectively by Radiohead. From the Great White North of Iceland they come, spreading their painfully exquisite message in a mixture of Icelandic and singer Jón Thór Birgisson's private "Hopelandish" language. The sound of "God weeping tears of gold in heaven," Melody Maker tells us. In two years, Ágætis Byrjun has become the barometer with which all music is compared in their native Iceland and inspired new levels of hyperbolic journalism worldwide, leading up to this re-release on PIAS America in conjunction with MCA. The snow-capped majesty of Ágætis Byrjun, augmented by bowed strings, the static crackle of falling snowdrifts, and other ethereal rumbles, is the most immediately striking element of Sigur Rós, as Birgisson's woozy operatic vocals take a while to sink in. Once they do, it becomes clear that at the heart of the polar grandeur there are unbelievably affecting songs that come across loud and clear in any language. Birgisson's quivering voice on "Flugufrelsarinn" conveys the torture of the dark Icelandic winter. "Olsen Olsen" finds the singer's angelic wails reverberating from one peak to another until the sound rattles in the dell, where the folkspeople celebrate with triumphant marching flute and sing along, reveling in the extraordinary masterpiece that is Ágætis Byrjun.