Release Date: Apr 6, 2010
Genre(s): Rock, Pop
Record label: XL
Music Critic Score
How the Music Critic Score works
The continued existence of Sigur Rós is surely proof positive that benevolent forces do indeed glitter away quietly in a forgotten corner of the universe. If so, the fact that they’re currently on an indefinite hiatus merely underlines what we’ve all long suspected: that we probably never really deserved them in the first place. Still, vocalist Jónsi Birgisson’s gossamer, reverb-steeped hootings are so integral to the Sigur Rós sound that pining devotees should certainly get something of a fix from Go, his first solo album proper (if by ‘solo’ we agree to mean ‘quite heavily collaborative’).
The amount of angst I felt as I cued up Jónsi's Go for the first time was, in retrospect, totally inappropriate. But I imagine I'm not the only Sigur Rós fan to approach the album with anxiety, maybe even a little resentment. Wasn't it good enough for Jónsi to front one of the most beloved and bizarrely successful rock acts of the last decade? Has “indefinite hiatus” ever meant anything other than a slow-motion breakup? Had Iceland's art-rock champions somehow been Yoko-Ono'd by Jónsi's boyfriend/collaborator, Alex Somers? All conspiratorial bitterness aside, it feels important to acknowledge the high likelihood that, with Go, the mighty Sigur Rós has been laid to rest for good.
With Media Conglomeration, Inc. having bludgeoned virtually every last drop of mystery and wonder from our soul-sucking modern lives, any chance to retreat to the tiny plot of unknowable magic occupied by Sigur Rós is truly a possibility for a minor redemption. No surprise, this first solo record from arch-seraph Jon Thor Birgisson brims with moments of aural salvation.Jónsi’s own “salvation” is apparent from the get-go, as he gallops through a pair of blithely spirited numbers, chirpy flutes, wistful strumming and exuberant, inimitably angelic trilling.
Jónsi Birgisson doesn't do small. As the lead singer of Sigur Rós, he's starred in several of this century's most epic songs; with their penchant for instrumental swells, feedback, and weight-of-humanity wails, the Icelandic band has practically set a new, near unreachable height for melodramatic art rock. But after perfecting this style on 2005's Takk, Jónsi and his mates have had some trouble finding a way out from beneath the burden of big.
The thing about Sigur Rós: It sounds like nothing you've ever heard before. The thing about Sigur Rós bandleader Jónsi's solo album: It sounds like Sigur Rós... only stronger. Originally conceived as an acoustic outing, the project blossomed into a melodramatic cinema-scope soundscape-thanks, in no small part, to composer Nico Muhly's (Grizzly Bear, Antony & the Johnstons, Björk) dense orchestration.
Sigur Rós frontman’s solo debut proves he’s more than just a pretty voice. There’s this thing Jónsi Birgisson does with his voice. You can hear it nearly three-and-a-half minutes into the track “Grow Till Tall” on Go, his first solo record after more than a decade fronting Icelandic ambient-rock outfit Sigur Rós. Jónsi’s fragile, luminescent tenor begins a subtle dance, climbing a few notes up the scale to a moderate plateau and then sliding back down, ascending once more to a comparable altitude, then gliding all the way back down to Earth like a well-built paper airplane.
With their second album, Ágætis byrjun, Sigur Rós crystalized their sound, delivered a masterpiece and effectively usurped Björk’s throne as figurehead of the Icelandic music scene. The next two albums, ( ) and Takk…, found the band tweaking and perfecting what they had accomplished on Ágætis byrjun. There weren’t any great shifts in tone or style, but they were still delivering knock-out soundscapes that left the rest of world daydreaming of a life in Iceland.
Anyone expecting Jónsi's solo debut to sound anything much like his work as vocalist with Sigur Rós might be a little shocked. (Only a little, though.) Unlike the sound of the band, which is akin to being enveloped in a great misty cloud of shifting tones and textures, listening to Go is, for the most part, like being caught in a storm of color saturated hailstones. From the very beginning, Jónsi and his collaborators, composer Nico Muhly, Alex Somers (who was half of the Jónsi & Alex project), and Samuli Kosminen pepper the listener with shards of sunny strings and woodwinds, spools of chopped-up guitars and keyboards, all sorts of digital manipulations, and above it all, layers of Jónsi's reliably enthralling voice.
Befitting of its sentimentally juvenile concerns, Jónsi’s solo debut album, Go, is a gangly, hyperactive record. Although occasionally awkward and lumbering, Jónsi’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious enough to compensate for any momentary weaknesses. With Go, the sometime Sigur Rós frontman has made a broad, exotic Gulliver of a record — especially when compared to Riceboy Sleeps, his modest, Lilliputian side-project — one that is overwhelming, absorbing, and utterly transportive.
Everything Jónsi touches is beautiful. Whether what he’s making is innovative, treading artistic water or somewhere in between, his angelic voice always floats gorgeously over it, lending emotional meaning and curiosity to foreign (or completely made up) languages. He’s always seemed the least restrained part of Sigur Ros, the more cheerfully buoyant part of the group.
In the past two years Jón fiór Birgisson (Jónsi) has performed as both part of Sigur Rós and as Jónsi & Alex with boyfriend Alex Somers in last year's moody but moving ambient piece Riceboy Sleeps. As if to prove that you'd need Paul Collingwood-like hands to catch him before he changes guise again, he returns as just Jónsi for an optimistic pop record that sounds more like fellow northern Europeans Choir of Young Believers and Loney Dear than the wooshy orchestral music of Sigur Rós. Like them, he even sings in English this time.
What do you do when you've got a huge backlog of unreleased songs? If you're Jónsi Þór Birgisson, you make a solo record out of all the stuff that doesn't fit with Sigur Rós. Gone are the 10-minute floaters found on his Icelandic band's albums, replaced by Jónsi's more positive, sugary pop songs that still blend in a fair share of ethereal electronics, folk elements and the good old darkness found on Kolnidur. [rssbreak] Expert arrangements come courtesy of classical composer Nico Muhly, who deftly layers strings, winds and percussion to deliver satisfying fullness.
For better or worse (but leaning ardently toward the former), it’s true: Jón Þór Birgisson has placed his day job in Sigur Rós on hold and gone the way of the solo artist. Had he simply and eloquently faded away – like so many of his band’s most sublime songs – no one would’ve faulted him. Sigur Rós was easily one of the most relevant and influential bands of the 21st century’s first decade, suffusing downtempo art rock with calculated application of tension and release; many have tried to emote like these guys, but few have come close to matching the intensity with which they did so.
His voice remains one of modern music’s most readily identifiable instruments. Si Hawkins 2010 Long-term fans of Sigur Rós could be forgiven for feeling a little nervous about Jónsi Birgisson’s new project. The quartet he usually fronts possess many admirable qualities, but their international success owes much to a mystique greatly enhanced by lyrics that are gobbledegook to most.