Kveikur... Quicker (at least the drums are)
Review: Sigur Rós – Kveikur
Published on June 20th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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‘Kveikur’ apparently means candlewick, a mild irony given that Sigur Rós’s seventh album is one of their least slow-burning works to date.
Last year’s Valtari was particularly susceptible to those “whale music” accusations – vast wildernesses of shimmering beauty, you know the thing – so it’s perhaps not surprising to hear our heroes returning to the ‘bandier’ sound of 2008’s overlooked Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.
“Brennisteinn” (‘Brimstone’) kicks Kveikur off with Sigur Rós’s usual splendour held aloft by stomping drums and scuzzy blasts of bass, making quite a different animal of them. Indulge your imagination and you might picture a heartbroken yeti traipsing through a snowstorm, going on to acquire a skittering sort of pace and intensifying beauteously as this group is wont to do.
The ensuing “Hrafntinna” comes across like some cracked throwback to Ágætis byrjun and ( ), steeped in the production trickery they’ve accumulated since. Its magnificent orchestration never threatens to feel overbearing, and another commendable lightness of touch amidst the soundscapery is evidenced on “Ísjaki” (‘Iceberg’), the twinkly shuffle and upwards-soaring vocal inflections of which remind of Mew.
Kveikur finds Sigur Rós subtly exploring new or rarely chartered (by them) terrain while retaining much of their signature sound. The title track’s brooding, grinding slice of darkside is a relative surprise coming as it does from a band usually so steeped in light, while the more energetic rhythm sections are at once a key feature of the record and an intrinsic link to Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.
Unfortunately, it all feels like a very safe kind of ‘different’ for Sigur Rós; this manner of beauty must come pretty easy to them by now, and the busier drumming feels more or less like the extent of their efforts to dress it up. “Bláþráður” is a case in point: replace those rumbling fills with a slow, staggered beat and you’ve got yourself an old-style Sigur Rós song.
In other words, there’s just about enough difference to comment upon but too much familiarity to make for a thrilling departure. For Rocksucker’s money, 2005’s heavenly commercial breakthrough Takk… represents Sigur Rós’s last truly great work and the limit of what their very particular approach could achieve. The attempts at evolution on Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust were promising if not quite ‘there'; on Valtari and Kveikur, they sound majestic but all too predictable.
Kveikur is out now on XL.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!