Ah, the live record. These are so tough because they present countless obstacles for an artist. The most challenging part, and also perhaps the most obvious, is that the listener probably wasn't at the recorded concert, so even if a band -- like Sigur Ros -- places a heavy emphasis on what happens on stage (with lots of lights, colors, explosions, etc.), none of that translates to headphones. Whether the recording is successful or not comes down to the music, how it sounds, and the simple question: can these dudes actually play? Thankfully, Sigur Ros can.
When you first hear Sigur Ros, it feels like a band that must be heard live. Led by the eccentric/slightly crazy/David Bowie-esque frontman Jonsi, the group explores new territories in the most honest and genuine way. Not only are the lyrics comprised of haunting Icelandic chants, but the music itself isn't what one might call "traditional," as it's a blend of guitar, xylophones, piccolos and pianos. Sigur Ros relies completely on atmospheric feeling in its songwriting, with much of the emphasis placed on grand, ambient buildups that eventually explode into what can only be called a sound-gasm. With INNI, a double LP live album (plus a DVD shot by Vincent Morisset), the band has again captured its weird cocktail blend of a sound live on a record -- and it's a damn good record.
Pulled from the late 2008 tour promoting Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, most of the songs come from that album and 2005's Takk. And in the simplest terms -- since both of those records are terrific -- it's not a surprise that the live renditions are also terrific. But what makes them successful, and makes INNI worth a listen rather than just clicking on those old LPs in iTunes, is the live aspect. These songs aren't cleaned up studio versions. Polished, yes, but there's a grittiness to Jonsi's voice. His haunting, breathy falsetto is no longer sweet or endearing -- it's aggressive. He uses his angelic croon to beckon us to listen to him, sounding so damn desperate. Combine that with the rest of the band's driving, yet ambient build-ups and we have one of our most lovely and earnest records of 2011.