The first time I ever heard of this band, I didn't actually understand their name. HBO used to have this concert show called “Reverb,” and one particular episode focused on a band with a strange fellow playing his guitar with a bow. I hadn't seen anything like it, and at the time I wasn't super interested. It wasn't for a few years that I would end up naturally finding them, and this time, it stuck. So much of their music is textured, gorgeous, and soulful that it's hard not to put them a step above most other bands in the alternative web. Simply stated, this is a band to immerse oneself in and get to know the majestic beauty. Here are my ten favorite songs by Iceland's amazing Sigur Ros.
10. All Alright, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
We start the list with the only song the band has so far crafted in the English language. So much has been made of the “language” they created with Hopelandic that the band is sick of talking about it, but here the use of English really drives the emotion to a place they don't often reach. It's a quiet song, but the structure and balance they bring to it is impeccable(find other word.) Many people look at this album as a miss for the band, but it's great in certain parts. Especially here. Having this song as the last track on the record also gives it more weight and sincerity. Halfway through the song, you hear somber horns in the background, and it's at this moment that the song becomes even more emotional and cathartic. They may never do another song in the English language, but when there's a song this pure, is there any point?
9. Olsen Olsen, Ágætis Byrjun
So much of this band is otherworldly and hard to categorize that this list is likely going to end up with me just talking about how the music feels in my soul, which I guess is alright. One of the most overlooked things about this band is how well they know their instruments. The opening of “Olsen Olsen” is a great example. The plucking of the guitar, eventually joined by the soft thump of the drums is evolution at work. You may think this song is going to be another easy ride, and when Jonsi is singing it's hard to have an issue with that, but as we travel through the sounds, the sky opens up to a glorious early sunrise and the soul of the band shows itself. This is probably the bands best known record, and there's a good reason for it. Many of the songs are utterly powerful, and as the strings and piano build up hopefulness, everything is right.
8. Gong, Takk...
While trying to decide what aspect of this song I like the best, I realized that there is no one aspect of the entire band I like best. Seriously, these guys really know how to lull you into a state of arousal on a musical level that it's difficult to focus on one thing. At times the drumming, courtesy of Orri Páll Dýrason has way with you, and other times, Jonsi's voice brings you to the place of angels, even if you never believed in any kind of higher power. This song has all of those things. The drumming and layers in the back of the room slowly envelop everything in it's tracks, but it's all made perfect by the bright falsetto being sung over the music. If you just had the vocals, or the drums, or the guitar for that matter, it would be good, but it wouldn't be this good.
7. Staralfur, Ágætis Byrjun
Remember that movie the “Beach” with Leonardo Dicaprio. Well, in case you forgot like everyone else(I actually like it, but of course, the book is better), this song is featured in it, and it really fits in with the overall vibethat the makers of the film are trying to create. It also happens to be the song that first put the band on the radar in my life. At moments, I imagine drifting through new places and seeing the world for the first time. It's a wonderous song full of possibilites, and it's only made better by the explosions of fireworks heard through the song. So much of their work has a orchestral and almost operatic quality to it, but this track is probably the best example of that usage, at least among the songs we're covering today.
6. Ekki Mukk, Valtari
Probably the most steady song on the list, “Ekki Mukk” is indicative of the rest of the album. While none of the songs ever hit big like songs on previous albums, it's easily one of their best records, and shows that this band is capable of bringing new energy to the table. The song itself, though, is a freeing one, and puts the listener in a haze of light and beauty. Seriously, this is the band for any type of gorgeous weather. Some bands only work in daylight or night, but Sigur Ros continually manages to be a band that can adapt and highlight any time, whether it be an early morning sun rise, or a late day sunset, or the still beauty of a cloudless day with nothing but blue skies.
5. I Gaer, Hauf/ Heim
From the slowest, prettiest song on the list we turn now to the most heavy, dark song thematically the band has ever written. The opening chimes are gorgeous, but once unraveled they open up a world of darkness and power that you don't see much from this band. It's amazing though. Jonsi's voice is one of the few things that let you know this is a Sigur Ros track. It's such an unconventional track for the band, but that might be why I like it so damn much. It has all the elements of a typical song by them,but the brooding and tinges of epic darkness fighting against the light being presenting by the chimes makes this a compelling song, and one of the rare tracks that every fan of this band should listen to, even if it's only once.
4. Festival, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
One of the best things about this band is how well their music brings new dynamics to the films in which they're featured. Hopefully, we've all seen the James Franco film 127 Hours. The one about the adventurer who get's stuck in the canyon and has to chop his arm off to survive. Well anyway, the movie is amazing, but for my money the best scene in the film is after the arm is gone, and the main character is finally finding his way back to civilization. This song is playing, and the slow build of power and optimism go so well with the visuals you're seeing on screen that part of me thinks this track was their only choice for this section of the film. It starts with a quiet whimper, but by the time the happiness hits, you're dancing, clapping, and everything is right with the world.
3. Svefn-G-Englar, Ágætis Byrjun
I've been lucky enough to see this band twice, and both of those times, got to share the moment with my wife. When we saw them at Bonnaroo 2008, it was easily the best set of the weekend, and unfortunately, it was overshadowed by that whole Kanye thing. Getting back to the topic at hand though, this was the choice for the opening song of the set, and it couldn't have been better, It was day three of the festival, at 1:30 AM, and this slow burn of a song was how they welcomed us into their little world for the next two hours. The song winds and rolls with ease, going to an unknown destination. Trees on both sides, and the sun slowly going down for a nap, we don't know where this road will be going, but the chances are that it's going to be a place where only the purest, most serene things are possible, and the people we love will be accompanying us on the journey.
2. Hoppipolla/ Meo Blodnasir, Takk...
This song, right here, is my fucking jam. There's not a better song in the world to put everything in perspective. Just listening to it brings back memories. Some are good, others are unavoidable. This was the song I listened to immediately upon hearing about the passing of my Grandmother, and it was essential in allowing myself to grieve and and understand that this part of life was necessary. Some moments are amazing though. Back to Bonnaroo, this song was easily the most inspirational of the whole set. There was a point during the song that I became aware of the effect the music was having on me, and how I was thrilled to be not only alive, but experiencing this with my now wife. I also remember realizing that my mouth was completely open from the sheer force of the show, and I instantly felt better when I looked around and other people had the same awestruck reaction as I did.
1. Saeglopur, Takk...
You might be wondering why this is number one, since I just expounded so much on how perfect “Hoppipolla” is, and you would be correct in wondering. While the previous song is indeed perfect, I pick this song because for the months leading up to the Bonnaroo trip, my lady and I couldn't go a day without this song playing in our house. The song is a perfect buildup of everything at which the band excels, and for that reason, it's my choice for number one. The vocals are ethereal and strong, and the pounding of the drums bring the tightly knit arrangements into perfect symmetry. It also happens to be a jam on all levels of epic. Many of the songs on Takk are like this, but the way “Saeglopur” evolves and marinates in sound is the highlight of not only the record itself, but also the band overall. It also works because it gets so dense, but suddenly, the band is able to drop it back down and refocus it in a way that only Sigur Ros is capable of. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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