My first impression of the new album Valtari by Sigur Ros was underwhelming to say the least. I fired myself up to write a three star review and complain about the sad decline of the once brilliant Icelandic band. After my first listen, I agreed with fans who described the music as pretty but uninspiring. This, coming from artists who invented a genre of emotional music as moving and innovative as any created.
I was determined to have the music on the new disc move me with the same impact I felt from Agaetis Byrjun,() and Takk. I kept anticipating the barren cold textures, the unexpected sweeping turns and finally, the breathtaking climaxes (the "I need a cigarette kind!") It never happened; what a disappointment.
Then something else happened...After an extremely tiring yet pleasurable surf session, I decided to try Valtari again. Exhausted, I closed my eyes and listened without expectations. By the second track, Ekki Mukk, I felt as if a door had been opened. Next, Varuo completely took me over (tears escaped my closed eyes.) I started seeing colors. I felt as if I was still in the Pacific riding waves. The music, just like surfing, had picked me up and moved me. In the ocean, one can not make a wave. When listening to Sigur Ros, the listener can't make the music move them.
My assessment: The first five tracks pour in, a liquid steamroller. Jonsi's vocals rise and fall like an ocean wave. The final three songs are mostly instrumental and lovely, almost like one merging outro. These last three, a sailboat riding the tide out and taking the listener to relative safety of the sea. The soft ending is welcome after the beauty and glory by the shore.
Please excuse the dramatic metaphors; I know it sounds pretentious. But every word and sound rings true for me. So please, long-time fans, give the record a chance; don't compare it to their storied past. Newbies: just get on board and enjoy the ride...