“I really can’t remember why we started this record, I no longer know what we were trying to do back then. I do know session after session went pear-shaped, we lost focus and almost gave up…did give up for a while. But then something happened and form started to emerge, and now I can honestly say that it’s the only Sigur Ros record I have listened to for pleasure in my own house after we’ve finished it.” – Georg
At first listen, Valtari sounds like a soundtrack to a Ridley Scott movie, but in a good way. Analyzing the evolution of the sound of Sigur Ros and the solo work from Jonsi, you’d think the band would continue to explore the more festive and cheerful character of music, but in their defense, the band has kept their promise and produced an environmental album. Valtari has a clear sense of introspection. The guitars hardly ever reach the moments of apotheosis that we are used to from them (only once, near the end of ‘Varut’) and Jonsi’s voice appears almost in the background, acting as more of a decorative element in the atmosphere. There are moments when you hear the needle scratching on a record, and that brings you back from your out-of-body experience to the familiar sensation of goose bumps.
The themes are extremely melancholy; (‘Ekki mukk,’ ‘Dauoalogn,’ ‘Varoeldur,’ ‘Fjogur piano’), and in some ways they could be compared to a depressed Porcupine Tree in their early days. The album sounds like Sunny Day Real Estate met Minus the Bear in a cathedral and produced a record. It ignores every label attributable to rock music, and that is surprising when you consider the evolution of the band’s sound and their latest works in the indie, post-rock and ambient communities. Valtari could be considered boring, especially in the early tracks, but it does have enough quality to finish hooking the more patient listener.
Despite the environmental character of the record, the variety of atmospheres is quite noticeable, and it features some real gems. The title track is one of the best compositions to come from the band in a long time, and it is single-handedly capable of giving many Sigur Ros fans the desire for multiple listens. Valtari will not go down in history as the best work of Sigur Ros, but it will not go down as a setback in their career either, and that is not a small feat given the list of disappointments we so often hear from bands that we have consecrated as Gods.
Lucky for us, Sigur Ros did not give up when things went pear-shaped, and it is nice to hear that kind of honestly, humility, and pride from a veteran band like themselves.
Grade: Now I hate Vikings, but you cannot afford NOT to give Iceland another chance after listening to this record.