By Erik Brownsword
Let’s make my bias clear from the start: Sigur Rós is my favorite band.
The on-hiatus Icelandic ensemble may not be ideal for revelrous karaoke or drunken fist-pumping, but their richly layered, sweeping epics move me in a way no other music does. While the rest of the band has been off raising newborns, frontman Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson has been working on a new solo album, Go.
Of course, when I say solo I don’t mean to give you the impression that Jónsi has become an Icelandic John Mayer – Go has all the cello bow-played guitars, piano, strings, brass, woodwinds, drums and synths mixed in rapturous harmonies and triumphant finales one would expect from recent Sigur Rós albums like Takk… or Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust.
In one word, I would describe the album as “effervescent.” In two words, “utterly captivating.” In three, “hard to understand” (More on that last one in a moment).
The opener “Go Do” sets the tone of this pop-friendlier album, introducing staccato blips of Jónsi’s voice and various pipes until they are unified behind the driving pound of drums, rolling into a joyful refrain.
“Animal Arithmetic” takes the cake for best title and most interestingly off-kilter beat, skipping and tumbling along with Jónsi’s lively, childhood-memories-evoking lyrics: “I see you’re colorful / I see you in the trees / I see you’re spiritful / You’re in the breeze.”
The album’s energy reaches its zenith in “Boy Lilikoi.” Its alternating frenetic and marching beats juxtapose with Jónsi’s airy, whimsical vocals and woodwind flourishes as they crescendo in an exuberant, string-filled waterfall of a chorus.
The entirety of the album is full of engaging surprises and explosive finales.
It’s also full of brightly optimistic, occasionally inspiring and often fanciful lyrics about growth, life and struggle (obviously influenced by his bandmates’ young children) although you might not make any of that out in your first few listens. And not because Jónsi is singing in his usual Icelandic (or his personal variant, known as “Hopelandic”). The bulk of the album is in English, but that may not make it as miraculously easier to comprehend as you might imagine.
At first, the incomprehensibility of a great deal of the lyrics was a thorn in the otherwise unblemished paw that is this review. But then I realized a great truth about myself: Jónsi could be singing the lyrics of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” in every song and I would still get goosebumps from his transcendent, elevating falsetto and glistening soundscapes. Maybe, just maybe, you will have a similar reaction to this accessible, jubilant release.