Release Date: Jul 21, 2009
Record label: Beggars XL
Genre(s): Rock, Experimental
Sigur Rós vocalist skips beats and lyrics for more slow-burning instrumentation and sublime, dreamy sound Jonsi Birgisson made his name as the high-pitched vocalist for Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, but for the last few years has been cooking up a side project of art exhibitions with his partner Alex Somers under the name Riceboy Sleeps. Their debut album, released under the same name, reveals exquisite, carefully constructed instrumental tracks that are as gentle and mesmerizing as the duo’s art. Opening track “Happiness” debuted on the acclaimed Dark Was The Night compilation earlier this year, though it sounds more like a track off Soothing Spa Sounds Vol.
Jónsi (Jon Thor Birgisson) and Alex (Alex Somers) worked on the album that became Riceboy Sleeps on and off for almost five years. After taking a month to finish and mix it, the result is an album that sounds remarkably like the band Jónsi fronts, Sigur Rós. A lot of times side projects serve as outlets for music that the band would never attempt; Riceboy Sleeps sounds like it's made of stray Sigur Rós moments the group spent tuning orchestras, warming up vocal choirs, or checking levels.
In an age in which the imperative to reuse and recycle is stronger than ever - not in terms of making pop music, but rather with an eye on the future of the planet - it's good to learn that this record was apparently recorded on acoustic instruments in Iceland and then reworked on solar-powered laptops in a raw food commune in Hawaii. This certainly sounds plausible when you hear Riceboy Sleeps, the debut release from Sigur Rós's singer Jón Þór Birgisson (usually known as Jónsi) and his boyfriend Alex Somers, who have previously staged art shows under the same name. Earlier this year, their track Happiness featured on the compilation Dark Was the Night, alongside music by the likes of Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Beirut and Bon Iver, signalling that something special was bubbling up.
Jon Thor Birgisson, aka Jónsi, wins his bread as Sigur Rós's singer, and there is plenty for fans of Iceland's biggest band to enjoy in Riceboy Sleeps, Jónsi's first musical outing with his partner, Alex Somers. Riceboy first awoke as a single track on February's glorious Dark Was the Night charity comp: Happiness, the opening track here, offered a glimpse towards what this LP might offer. It's not a record designed to carry the fans Sigur Rós picked up post-Hoppípolla and its parent album, Takk.
Riceboy Sleeps is the original moniker under which all the creative work falls in the collaboration between Jón (Jonsi) Pór Bergisson, singer and fundamental figure in Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros, and Alex Somers, who does much of the artwork for his partner’s full-time project, and is also the founding member of the American/Icelandic eight-piece, Parachutes. The pair started on the Riceboy Projects in 2003, working together on and off for nearly six years. The first publicly available work was a wordless art book released in 2006, before three exhibitions in 2007 using unfinished compositions taken from the album alongside visual pieces of video and imagery.
The problem with side projects is that they always lead to comparisons with the main band. In fact, 'problem' may be the wrong word; let’s try 'issue'. The issue with side projects is that they always lead to comparisons with the main band, which is understandable, but nonetheless, the issue remains that if an artist struggles to deviate from their original, main work, then why bother to strike out on their own? On the other hand, if the solo project is better than the parent band it begs the question of what the artist has been messing around with and why they've never produced something of this quality before.
Ever since Ágætis Byrjun pushed wigs back a decade ago, every subsequent Sigur Rós release felt like it had to respond to the same question: did we all get duped into falling for some New Age hokum with a really great gimmick? And each time, there was a reason to emphatically answer "no," whether it was () and its extraterrestrial fragility, Takk's advance into verdant pop forms, the Hvarf/Heim curtain-reveal, and then last year's Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaustat least had "Gobbledigook" going for it. But after "Gobbledigook" hinted at surprisingly concise melodic smarts (as well as a dialogue with American indie trends), most of Með feasted on their most overcooked arrangements yet, leaving the listener to wonder whether Sigur Rós had much desire or incentive to really mess with a sound that made them arguably the most successful post-rock act of all time. That issue is one that could ostensibly be resolved by Jonsi Birgisson's Riceboy Sleeps project, recorded with his musical and romantic partner, Alex Somers.