Sigur Ros’s third release is titled without words, signified with closed parentheses. Perhaps ( ) best represents a sound, one with no starting or stopping point, warm and open, absent from time and space. This is the inconceivably distinct sound that the Icelandic quintet achieves in ( ), a state of reverie defined by blurred lyrics and delicate chords, infused with ambience and shaped by melancholic moments.
The words “sigur ros” roughly translate into English as “victory rose.” The band started playing together in August 1994 and was named after Jonsi Birgisson’s (lead vocals, guitar) younger sister, Sigurros, who was born the day the band formed.
Birgisson, Kjarri Sveinsson (keyboards), Orri Pall Djrason (drums) and Goggi Holm (bass) have played together ever since, but this record is their first with a major label. ( ) was released by MCA Records and recorded in Iceland, where the secluded and remote atmosphere inevitably seeps into the artist’s skin. The desolate, ethereal quality of the album is perhaps a direct reflection of their geographical location. It is surprisingly even more minimal than their previous release, Agaetis Byrjur (Good Start).
( ) is a lullaby fused with an unyielding nightmare. It smells of sadness, yet triumph and exuberance make cameo appearances, especially in the first half of the album. Strong keys and strings combined with shuddering percussion and a raging falsetto make for a strangely esoteric sound.
The album is pregnant with obscurity. Birgisson sings in an invented language, “Hopelandic,” which brushes the borderlines of Icelandic and English. Bits of English tiptoe into the first track (all tracks are untitled). “Your heaven light away/ You/ You sat alone/ Your eyes.” His lyrics have the same out of focus vision as the music they accompany. Birgisson layers his voice on top of smooth keys and dark strings, creating a multidimensional sound. Also, he changes the face of his Les Paul Gibson guitar by playing it with a cello bow instead of his fingertips, giving the sound a certain fragility that could not be achieved otherwise.
Many of the tracks on the seventy-minute ( ) are epic, some lasting over ten minutes, shifting tones many time during their duration. There are more than thirty seconds of silence between tracks four and five, an invisible barrier between the two separate moods of the album. The first half of the album is reminiscent of a Sunday morning, calm and nestled in a warm cocoon. The second half is beautifully somber, injected with minor chords and unrestrained percussion. This duality shows the light and the shadow of Sigur Ros; they are experimental yet elegant, and heavy but soft.
Most important, Sigur Ros have created something refreshingly dynamic. ( ) has the perfect mix of paralysis and fluidity that makes for a remarkable album.