Kveikur, by Sigur Ros
Suggested by Nicholas Fitterson
Before 2020 became a pulsating rectum compacted with spite, Sarah and I planned a trip to Iceland.
If you know us well, you realise how surprising this is. In our sixteen years together, we can count our holidays on one hand. It’s not that we’re shut-ins. We’d just rather spend our monies elsewhere.
We were excited. Iceland is an island of great beauty and charm, and Sarah was keen to explore. She was particularly giddy to see the Northern Lights. Me? I’m made of simpler stuff. I wanted to see the Penis Museum.
The Icelandic Phallalogical Museum, to use its official name, houses the worlds largest collection of penises and penile parts. Founded in 1997 by a bloke that really likes penises, it displays over 300 different knobs from over 100 species of mammal. That’s roughly three of each. The largest is the 67-inch tip of a blue whale’s member, while the smallest is a 2mm hamster baculum that can only be viewed through a microscope. There’s a human specimen on display, donated by a 95-year-old man in 2011 on the day of his death. Apparently, it’s a little shrivelled.
So, what to make of Sigur Ros, the Icelandic post-rock collective known for their ethereal and minimalistic approach? Will they light up the stage with their haunting rock soundscapes, or will they be more like the Icelandic Phallalogical Museum: some cocks in a room?
Kveikur opens with a buffeting wind, a creaking ship, and a static noise that creates a wonderfully eerie yet menacing tone. An overdriven bass and thumping drums kick in to mutilate the already fractured peace, but things are stroked under control by a soothing and swooping bowed guitar and an echoed, ethereal chorister singing sorrowfully in Icelandic. The music’s spine is dirty and distorted, yet the encompassing harmony contains the rawness and smooths away the sharp edges. It’s contradictory yet atmospheric stuff.
There’s a conscientious choice to concentrate on the aesthetic of the sound, over anything so mundane as song structure. It’s hardly a hindrance, as the resultant cacophony does engulf your senses. Sadly, it means that while there’s a definite desire to offer new takes as the tracks progress, there’s a certain formless, amorphous quality to the album that makes individuality of sound take a back seat. One track merges into the next, with the promise of something new and distinct, but the reality being another big-beat-meets-distortion-meets-echoey-ghost number in the same vein as the last.
Jonsi, the frontman, extracts emotions from the ether by use of falsetto delivery and an over-developed need for vocal effects (particularly echo). It’s beguiling, to a point, but I feel he works best when those aspects are reigned back. This album is apparently the band’s least commercial, and It’s no surprise that my favourite track is Stormur, which conforms to a more standard sound and structure than the rest. Maybe I’d be more at home with their previous work.
Kveikur is artistically intriguing, and collectively beautiful. Yet, despite bringing contrast within the elements of individual tracks, it doesn’t retain a memorable shape and the nuance is lost in the hue of the whole. I give it 6/10, which wouldn’t dissuade me from sampling more.