Sigur Rós – Hvarf/Heim
Record Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: November 6, 2007
I always revered Sigur Rós for releasing an album in a fake language. They begged us to attach our own meanings, but since I’m me, () became a much more disgusting version of Peer Gynt. Strange, three-horned animals, deadly volcanoes and vast piles of entails were imagined amidst overflowing instrumental sections and ghastly wailing. I was finally allowed to take part in the creative process, and as a result, my connection to Sigur Rós stayed solid and unwavering. They had won me as a fan by being completely nonsensical. Which actually makes a lot of sense (at least to me).
Now comes Hvarf/Heim, a companion to a new live DVD entitled Heima. Hvarf is the “electric” side of things, consisting of nearly forgotten B-sides. And let me be the first to say, there’s nothing “B” about these songs. Though I understand that certain tracks have to be wait-listed for various reasons, not among those reasons is a lack of quality. Heim, on the other hand, contains acoustic, live versions of Sigur Rós favorites. I read a (unknowingly astute) comment that displayed skepticism because this release would lack the cohesive characteristics found on () or Takk. On the lyrical side of things, this is barely a concern (for me), but musically these songs still flow with ease and logic. Any fan of the band should be more than pleased with the collection.
Hvarf begins with “Salka;” a track originally destined for (). Almost instantly Jon Birgisson’s falsetto breaks through light snare hits and soft guitar noodling. The track is sweet in its sparseness, and Birgisson truly shines in multiple spotlight moments. “Hjolamind” is about as close to a pop song as Sigur Rós get. An expansive chorus and catchy drumming from Orri Dyrason keep the three-chord structure from becoming too redundant. “I Gaer” is a personal favorite. The instrumental effects recall more psychedelic, moodier times and the reverberating guitars truly create an eerie atmosphere. The xylophone(?!) outro has me waiting to be stabbed by some unseen force rather than smiling innocently. This is just another instance where Sigur Rós can convey their message so effectively, even without me having any idea what the lyrics are about. I become emotional and stunned every time.
It’s hard to say which side is more magnificent, but as someone that has never had the intense pleasure of seeing Sigur Rós live, I would be lying if I didn’t say that Heim knocked me to my wobbly knees. “Samskeyti” is completely instrumental and floats around piano notes that repeat but never get repetitive. An elegant string section mourns (or rejoices) the very moment being lived in. “Vaka” is simple in its instruments, but Birgisson’s voice unlocks the door to a beautiful yet heart-wrenching world: “You sigh low tonight / You’re so alone.” I find it necessary to mention that calling these songs acoustic is completely misleading. The orchestrations are still encompassing and invigorating. “Agaetis Byrjun” makes the most upfront use of the acoustic guitar, but a melodic piano part is the focus. The song’s hypnotic bassline melts time. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
I hate that I must imagine these songs in large, open-air venues (at least until the DVD is mine). Those of you who have seen the band: I am jealous and want to physically hurt you. But I guess my little Magnavox will have to do for now. Not often do bands make B-sides that are better than their “official” work (“I Gaer”), and a chance to hear these songs should not be missed. If I ever have the opportunity to see Sigur Rós live, I’m keeping a stretcher nearby. Chances are I’ll need it.
Recommended If You Like: Eluvium, Mogwai, the aurora, The Ascent of Everest, shamans
I have listened to several of these songs on their myspace but not all of them. I love what i have Heard. Great review by the way. I also see that you are a fan of the Ascent of Everest. They are a band that you must see live as well. (If you Havent).
Good review. I give both discs collectively an 85%.
I saw these guys 3 times in about 4 months near the end of 2005-beginning of 2006. They have, hands down, the best live show. One venue all we did was clap in between songs, no talking or anything, it was truly amazing, dead silence during all songs. This DVD is gonna be amazing! If they ever come tour back in the states, do whatever you can do to see them. I think I like the Heim disc better than the Hvarf disc. Both are really solid though. Sigur Rós is great to listen to this time of year especially!!!!!