Sigur Rós - Hvarf/Heim
Record Label: EMI/XL Recordings
Release Date: November 6, 2007
I used to be a person who considered himself wary of any band that was from Iceland. I mean come on, it’s Iceland. Could any band worth listening to (beside Bjork) call Iceland home? I soon found out my assumptions were wrong when a friend introduced me to a band whose sound was bigger than their homeland – Sigur Rós.
Since then, I have told countless friends about the quartet, which consists of vocalist/guitarist Jón Birgisson, keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, drummer Orri Páll Dýrason, and bassist Georg Holm. With four lauded full length releases of Icelandic ambience, consisting of colossal, reverberating sounds that could fill the very ice caverns of the band’s home, the band has returned after two years with the highly anticipated release of their new double-disc record entitled Hvarf/Heim (“home” and “disappeared" in Icelandic). The band acoustically revisits some of its older material on Heim and expands on its collection of already compelling art with Hvarf, an album of unreleased rarities.
However, it should be said that b-side records rarely seem to live up to fans’ expectations, primarily because they consist of backlogged songs that were never good enough to make the cut for a record, or songs that seemed to have slipped through the cracks during recording and production. Nevertheless, Hvarf, which may be seen as a departure from the band’s previous work, is an eclectic mix that lacks the rugged intensity of the band’s 2002 ( ) release, and the silent grace of 2005’s Takk. Hvarf, in a sense, is Sigur Rós’ experimental record; it’s less focused and more exploratory, an effort that at time misses the mark, as in the rather boring “Salka,” and at other times succeeds with natural exuberance. Hvarf can be honest, complete, and beautiful, as shown by the muscular “Í Gćr” that thunders forward with gargantuan synths, and the end track “hafsól” which builds, pulses, crashes, and quiets, in an ending that can only be described as serene.
Ambience is something that seems to be engrained in the very DNA of Sigur Rós, who have released two records that are capable of filling arenas with layers upon layers of guitar, keyboard, vocals, and drums. At times it is hard to believe that so much sound can come from only four people. With that being said, the live album Heim misses the mark in an attempt to strip down the grandiose sound of the band and acoustically focus on the band’s finer elements. This decision to dismantle down to the bare bones leaves Heim less inspiring and more earthy, a folk-like Sigur Rós with Birgisson’s opera-like vocals at times dropping down an octave or two, lessening the tonal impact on the listener. The band is best when it is exploding with resonance, not removing it as it does in “Vaka,” a remake of “Untitled 1,” and in “samskeyti,” a redone version of “Untitled 3,” both of which fall short of the originals.
Although Heim is a sub par effort, Sigur Rós made a pleasing decision with the release of Hvarf. Although the record may not be as glorious as the band’s two previous albums, it can still hold water as an album equipped with strength and climate, two defining characteristics of the Icelandic powerhouse.
I really like Heim, but I agree that Hvarf is a better effort. "I Gaer" is top five song of the year.
The DVD is amazing as well. I have no idea how the song, "Heima" off of the DVD didn't make the EP. It's something different than we've seen from Sigur Ros. I need to get an audio rip of it - it's incredible.