As a founding member of Sigur Rós, Jónsi Birgisson is something of a household name in experimental music circles. Over the past three decades, his band has gone on to become one of the most influential acts in the world. Their music transgresses numerous genres from ambient and post-rock to industrial noise.
Away from Sigur Rós, Birgisson’s work is similarly revered, and rightly so.
A decade between albums is a long time, but the evolution of Jónsi's music from Go to Shiver is so profound, it feels like it should be measured in light years instead of the ones marked by calendars. His first solo album, which arrived 16 years after he began changing post-rock with Sigur Rós, was much more pop-oriented than his work with his band, and its pastoral, winsome, yet noble songs could have been the soundtrack to an epic tale from long ago. On Shiver, he takes this fantastical quality in bold new directions, pairing blatantly artificial sounds with emotions that feel more real than ever.
Jónsi has become a master of post-rock textural dynamism, but on his first solo record in a decade he delves into the rugged terrain of abrasive electronic experimentation to add a sharper edge to his atmospheric pop. Enlisting the production of PC Music founder A. G. Cook, ultra-synthetic wails and blasting percussion inject an unrelenting caustic force into Jónsi's signature sound and musings.
It’s hard to think of two artists seemingly more diametrically opposed than Jónsi Birgisson and A.G. Cook. In one corner, the unmistakable voice of Sigur Rós, the band who redefined words like ‘ethereal’ and ‘dreamy’ and gained a wider audience when Hoppípolla soundtracked David Attenborough’s Planet Earth TV show.
While 'Shiver' isn't exactly the epitome of batshit some might've hoped for once news of the Sigur Rós frontman working with PC Music main man AG Cook surfaced, it does have its moments. 'Wildeye' makes like Swedish glitch-pop outfit The Knife immediately, its stop- start, cut'n'paste nature a joy to behold - and then comes the beautifully baffling breakdown. 'Salt Licorice', featuring Swedish floorfiller Robyn then takes it to eleven, making reference to her spectacularly on-brand "Scandinavian pain".
The first words that swim up from the dark, supple electronic void of "Exhale," which opens Shiver, Sigur Rós visionary Jónsi's striving but muddled attempt at a pop album: "Breathe in, breathe out." They're followed by a consoling mantra of assurances: Everyone's alright and it's just the way it is. It isn't your fault and you can just let it go. It's as if Bruce Horsby had been hired to write lyrics for Frozen.
Shiver by Jónsi A decade ago, the unearthly singer from Sigur Rós made a haunting, gorgeous album called Go, a record which definitely had its dance-y moments, but which fundamentally stuck to the sweeping atmospherics and a-verbal mysticism of the parent-band. Now, Jónsi is back with the decidedly more hedonistic Shiver, which he made with electronics producer of the moment A. G.
The Lowdown: On Shiver, his first solo album in 10 years, Icelandic artist Jónsi presents atmospheric electronic art-pop, which balances uplift with glitchy dread. With band Sigur Rós on indefinite hiatus, and after separating from his longtime partner/collaborator, the singer-songwriter-composer now lives in LA and had his first visual-art exhibition last fall. Those themes of the uncomfortable freedom of dislocation and transition are reflected on the songs of Shiver, which soar, short-out, crash and re-boot.