The release of Sigur Rós’sixth studio album was always going to be an event worth waiting for, but in case you’re not familiar with the reason why, here’s a quick recap of their career so far: They released Von, an album that most people will tell you can be guiltlessly avoided, followed it up with Ágætis Byrjun, a venerable landmark in the world of the ambient music and post-rock, then there were ( ) and Takk, which further displayed the Icelandic quartet’s prowess and made them in turn one of the most revered and influential bands around and finally Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. The latter was one of those albums that seemed to divide fans, with its relatively more upbeat sound and barely more approachable song structures, that said, it still was held its own and is definitely worth a spin (or ninety).
Fast forward to 2012, and we find ourselves faced with a return to the more languid, soundscape weaving, emotionally heavy band that we all knew and loved.Vocalist and guitarist Jónsi seems to have released all the “happy” in Valtari’s predecessor and his solo album and we’re left with nothing but nerve wracking, mind boggling, beautiful sadness. Valtari is in a word, sublime. In a few more words, Holy Icelandic goodness, Batman! This is exactly what I have been waiting for, nay, praying for, for the past four years! It sucks you in, takes you by the hand and guides you down the caverns left untrodden in the deepest areas of one’s soul. With Jónsi’s trademark falsettoas our guide, we shan’t be lost; we’ll reach conclusions, dwell upon them and be left all the better afterwards.
One thing worth mentioning though, which could be taken either for or against the album, is the almost complete lack of drums on the album. Anyone who’s familiar with the band’s previous works would know how important Orri Páll Dýrason’s role is in anchoring some of the bands most memorable tracks (“Untitled 8” and “Festival” would be enough to convey this) and it comes to the fore again on Valtari in “Varúð” after which they disappear completely from the album’s sonic map. Fortunately, the music is good enough to hold its own and unless you’re the kind of person who likes bands to sound the same on every single album they release ever, then the rest should be quite sufficient to please the most cynical of listeners.
From opener “Ég Anda” to closer “Fjögur piano”, this album is – if you hadn’t grasped this by now – a stunner. Get it, listen to it, repeat, repeat, repeat! (Mohammed Ashraf)