I’m starting this review sort of backwards, discussing first the 2-CD set comprising the entire live set of Sigur Rós from Alexandra Palace (taped over two nights in 2008), which accompanies the Blu-ray Disc concert film, of the same name: Inni.
Why? To emphasize up front why you would want (need?) to buy a Blu-ray disc featuring distorted and uber-artfully presented black & white footage of a band singing in its native Icelandic language: because the BD sounds a whole lot better than the CD! The CD is cool because you get the full presentation of (essentially) a complete Sigur Rós concert. The somewhat shorter BD is much warmer and bigger sounding (DTS HD Master Audio). So, whether you listen and watch on your 5.1 channel home theater system or simply pop it into your 2-channel “extra” stereo in another part of the house, you will want to have this more definitive version. It’s a great concert video, unlike most I’ve seen over the years. This new recording is intimate and in your face. Quiet and loud. It is a place where Fifes and feedback live in harmony side by side. It is a sumptuous release. Sumptuous. Yes.
Now, back to what might have been the beginning of my review: I came late to the party in discovering Sigur Rós, becoming a fan by way of the band’s singer, Jónsi Birgisson, who put out his first solo album last year, which I loved and still love! You can check out my review of it here.
As I delved deeper into Jonsi’s past, I found a rich music that in many ways picked up the wide void left by the departure of Jeff Buckley and the demise of Cocteau Twins, as well as traditions started by groups like Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Vanilla Fudge (<— yeah, Vanilla Fudge… give that link a listen!) and any number of the more ethereal groups lumped into the “progressive rock” category.
Stylistically, the band’s closest modern relative might be Radiohead, but some may view that as a stretch (myself included) because Sigur Rós has a different sort of — shall we say — “otherworldly earthiness” that descends equally from roots oriented music such as The Band and Neil Young in the ’70s (or even recently on his Le Noise album!), Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt in the ’90s, and, more recently, Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes.
The Wiki calls Sigur Rós “post rock,” but I don’t really think that’s accurate, as these guys do rock rather righteously… and “vigorously,” to borrow a phrase from Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
The Alice parallel is not accidental, however, as entering Sigur Rós’ and Jonsi’s world is a bit akin to falling down that rabbit hole into another world. It is a dream like place where broken lights sputter in time with beats, where stars appear out of nowhere, and time and space seem to take a pause in some alternate parallel universe.
It is a beautiful place that Sigur Rós and Jonsi inhabit. A vast church-like temple where vocals soar like angels, and chiming pianos and orchestral guitars pierce the heart like a Sword of Damocles, reminding us to slow down and take note of beauty we all have at our fingertips. Its a place where Bruce Springsteen’s grand early storytelling anthems (“NYC Serenade,” “Incident on 57th Street,” “Jungleland,” etc.) are grabbed by the groin and smashed head on with The Cure’s best dirges to squeeze out sparks most of us never dreamed existed beneath E-Street,
Jonsi’s vocals are of course a central attraction to Sigur Rós, and this album shows you why. His voice is one part pixie and one part Castrati, yet with an anthemic delivery that conveys meaning in every syllable — even if you can’t understand a single solitary word (note: his solo album Go is largely in English).
So you can understand my desire for better fidelity wherever possible when listening to this music. Don’t get me wrong — the mix on the CD sounds quite good and the performance is superb, giving the listener a grand overview of all of Sigur Rós’ five studio albums. But the Blu-ray is where you’ll want to start to get your head around where this band is coming from. Then you should probably take a look at Jonsi’s live show from The Wiltern Theater (available for sale/download on iTunes — it even has a surround soundtrack if you stream it through your Apple TV box to your home theater system).
And how does Inni LOOK? Well, it is one part concert film and one part David Lynch dreamscape (à la Eraserhead) and one part kinescope-flavored movie from a bygone era.
From the band’s website you can learn that a lot of thought and effort went into the making of this film, which has a very distinctive look and intimate feel that takes you into the hearts of the performers:
originally filmed on hd digital, ‘inni’ was first transferred to 16mm film and then projected and re-filmed once, sometimes through glass and other objects to give a strong impressionistic look, a feat accomplished with the help of godspeed you! black emperor visual collaborator karl lemieux. the film was then meticulously pieced together by ‘heima’ editor nick fenton, who chose to break up the flow with unexplained archive footage, including interview and concert material from before the band’s exposure to the wider world at the tail end of the last century.
Well else can I say but check this band and Blu-ray Disc out soon. I won’t be surprised if there is a Sigur Rós reunion tour in the relatively near future. Or at least you’ll want to go see Jonsi next time he tours. Either way, I’ll be on board (maybe I’ll see you there!).
The band has kindly made some tracks available for free download. You can download the final (and brand new!) song free via the band’s website.
You can get Inni up on Amazon of course. But, exclusively from the band’s website you can get a limited edition version that gives you the BD, DVD, and CD, plus 7-inch colored vinyl versions! I may just have to get this someday soon.
Here is the official preview trailer video.
This opens the disc and may be my favorite song thus far from the concert.