Best Albums of 2008

Tony SigI will be presenting you my top five albums of this year, in no particular order. First up…those Icelandic Darlings Sigur Ros‘ with their breathtaking album “Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust” (trans: With a Buzz in our Ears We Play Endlessly). I will also include a review I had written earlier in the year, though I will not likely review every band. What are your top five?

Not that long ago, the now defunct and deeply missed “Colorado Ska” band Five Iron Frenzy wrote a song on their debut album decrying the self-righteous indignation of supposed musical purists. “Some punk thrown in with ska, you said it wouldn’t work, well you can take your vespa home cause ska made you a jerk” Well said.

Sigur Ros’s previous album “Takk” had the indie police writing them overpriced tickets. Some saying it was their “pop” album others implying that they were now “sellouts”, which is of course the worst insult in their black book. (If I’m not mistaken Five Iron Frenzy also wrote a great song “Handbook for the Sellout”) Proclaiming that Sigur Ros the indie band, forever to be praised, with their long drawn out dark and moody 10 minute songs had exchanged their soul to the Devil for ‘mass appeal’. Nitzche proclaimed his ‘death of God’ a bit too prematurely, as did the indie Furher’s proclamation of Sigur Ros’s.

The fact of the matter is that early Sigur Ros, right up to the ( ) album, lacked focus and craftsmanship. Yes, they were able to create moods in such a way as had not been seen in quite some time, and they could explore darker edges than most; but the majority of their stuff was too damned long and sounded too similar to the song preceding it and the one after. Takk broke that mold for the better. There was a greater variety between the songs. The half made-up Icelandic lyrics did not all sound exactly the same, and rather than yet another album exploring typical European cynicism Takk exploded in boisterous and unrestrained joy.

Which is why the cover art for the latest Sigur Ros album “Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust” (trans: With a Buzz in our Ears We Play Endlessly) is so appropriate. When I listen to this album I am practically compelled to run buck naked through a grassy field. I would do it but the busy streets of Minneapolis are not conducive to such behavior, except perhaps during the upcoming Pride Parade. (It’s alright, I have gay friends)

In all fairness there is no “new” ground broken here. That is to say the album is not unique in the tradition of their previous efforts. There is nothing to shock one accustomed to hearing Sigur Ros. But there is maturity and growth. Kicking into a very fast paced and steady drum beat the first track “Gobbledigook”, at a conservative 3:05 min. is no epic and spacious power ballad, but it is catchy and accomplishes successfully what Coldplay tried to do on “Viva la Vida.” The next track is similar, albeit a tad slower and perhaps a bit too similar to songs on Takk. But the careful listener will discern that there are greater efforts to take their long, powerful and droning ballads to another level of complexity. One hears more horns and more strings playing more subtle and nuanced arrangements. There is careful control over the dynamics in, for instance “Ara batur”. Rather than relying on their trademark violin bow on electric guitar, Sigur Ros makes greater use of the acoustic guitar, never resorting to ‘folk’ kitsch. Like Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism”, which Jon Foreman described as a “Lesson in restraint” the song “Festival” takes a good 7 and a half minutes to get where it is going and delivers strongly when it does.

The album closes with a series of piano led excursions into somber contemplation, demonstrating that they can still explore those darker emotions, but with a bit of hopeful sobriety. There are few artists writing music that can sustain the incredibly slow speed of some of these tunes without collapsing back into themselves. In a world in which music is always in the background…driving, shopping, studying, watching television or movies this album will not be appreciated unless it is done uninterrupted and in seclusion. So whether one is already a fan or is new to the Icelandic darlings this album is worth getting. Don’t expect miracles, but expect something stunning.

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