Sigur Rós's Hvarf-Heim double EP works as both a summary of the Icelandic band’s first decade of opaline etherea and a due farewell to it. Hvarf is apotheosis music, a collection of outtakes representing the quintessential Sigur Rós post-rock pushed as far into its wraithlike extremes as is possible without drowning it in formula; Heim is that sound’s shadow terminus, an introspective and funereal look into the band's back catalog before (I hope) moving forward into new spheres of musical innovation.
The summation lies in Hvarf’s survey of Rós’s rarities. The disc offers selections from each major era of the band, from the misty, snowdrift melancholy of ( ) (2002) that slowly ripples throughout “Salka” to the indulgent bombast of “Í Gær,” which stares back into the band’s debut dalliance with prog-rock, Von (1997).
These two disparate threads intertwine on 2005’s Takk B-side and Hvarf's ten-minute final track, “Hafsól,” a massively cumulative epic that stands as the definitive anthem of Sigur Rós’s first decade. Opening with the quietly rhythmic thumping of a drumstick against the strings of a bass guitar, the band gradually swells forward, building in volume and tempo until the halfway mark. At that point the tension gives way to a dizzyingly frenetic explosion of stringed pizzicato stabs while frontman Jónsi Birgisson glides from a lunar coo to ecstatic howl, from which a lone penny-whistle emerges to gently lay the song to rest.
As far as farewells go, it’s hard to hear Heim as anything other than a goodbye, with Sigur Rós’s signature sound having already been driven to its outland limits, leaving the music on the second disc with nowhere to go but inward. Stripped and bare-boned, the tracks are broken down to their most essential, elemental ingredients. The band performs six songs -- from the gently circular piano that envelops the harmonium mourning of ( )’s “Samskeyti” to the cascading, autumnal swirl of “Starálfur” -- acoustically, rendering them even more nakedly poignant than their studio counterparts. Rarely are stopgaps so magisterial, tender, and wistful. But, again, I hope that’s the point.
Label: http://www.xlrecordings.comAudio: http://www.hvarf-heim.com
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