Release Date: Nov 15, 2011
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
A good many fortnights ago, I had the glorious fortune to be present at a Sigur Rós live performance at the Botanique in Brussels. Availed of no distracting companions, I experienced something not unlike Stendhal’s Syndrome, an instance of being so overwhelmed with artistic passion and beauty as to become physically disoriented afterwards. Inni, a new double album and 75-minute film documenting the final Sigur Rós live appearance from late in 2008, captures the experience with a striking power.
For Iceland’s most famous orchestral rock band, it’s all about the slow climb to a Massive. Glacier-melting. Conclusion. So this double live album/DVD, which includes footage from their final 2008 prehiatus show at London’s Alexandra Palace, is masterfully paced. Directed in flickering black ….
If you talk to someone that’s been to a Sigur Rós show, they’ll probably say it was an experience that either was, or had potential to be, nearly religious. Yeah, their albums are beautiful, and their songs and melodies are carefully constructed and sound great through a decent set of headphones. But there’s something to be said about seeing a group in concert that lives and dies by using dynamics, going from pin-drop quiet verses to ear-drum rattling crescendos.
Ah, the live record. These are so tough because they present countless obstacles for an artist. The most challenging part, and also perhaps the most obvious, is that the listener probably wasn't at the recorded concert, so even if a band -- like Sigur Ros -- places a heavy emphasis on what happens on stage (with lots of lights, colors, explosions, etc.), none of that translates to headphones.
When Sigur Rós played the last shows of their 2008 tour, they brought in a filmmaker, Vincent Morisset, to document the shows and also decided to record them as well. (A decision that proved wise as the band’s future was thrown into doubt after the sessions for the next album were started, then shelved, and the band went on hiatus.) Inni is the collated result of two nights of live sets at the Alexandra Palace in London and features songs drawn from the band’s long career and, as with the rest of the tour, is played by just the core quartet with no string section or extra musicians. Sigur Rós hadn’t played such stripped-down (for them) shows for years and the sound just the four of them create is stunning.
How do you describe the music of Sigur Rós? More importantly, how do you describe it without using the oft-overused word ‘haunting’? This is a quandary I came up against when listening to Inni and watching the accompanying DVD. Inni is the post rock experimental Icelandic foursome’s second live film and album, taken from their 2008 London gigs at Alexandra Palace. It might seem pointless to note that the gigs were in November, but their music sounds like winter drawing near, so perhaps it does warrant a mention.
I’ve often let the cool, ambient sounds of “Svefn-g-englar”, the expansive opening track from Sigur Rós‘ second studio album, transport me out of an otherwise pedestrian, dreary moment of existence. Sigur Rós has a way of melting away the mundane and making anything, whether it’s walking down a tourist-filled Manhattan street or riding a crowded subway car, seem sublime. But “Svefn-g-englar” isn’t really a song you can rock out to; even the heavy, minor key modulation halfway through the tune feels like a temporary detour on an otherwise Elysian idyll.
Inni arrived in stores with plenty to keep Sigur Rós fans occupied-- over two hours of music spread across two discs, as well as a handsomely shot DVD-- but last week, there was a piece of unintentional bonus material capable of changing its context completely after the fact: news that the band was back in the studio. Save for one track that ended up on the cutting room floor, Inni was taken from the band's final show in London before their indefinite hiatus and the launch of Jonsi's solo career, the success of which was a foregone conclusion. So it was easy to see Inni as an attempt at a totemic, final word on the Icelandic group or at least a 4Q sweep at completist dollars.
Ever since they captivated the world with Ágætis byrjun in 2000, it seems that Iceland natives Sigur Rós have never given up on being beautiful. Over the course of five studio recordings, the band’s signature ambient post-rock has never faltered in its breathtaking beauty. In a way, it speaks much to the country the band hails from. What is likely the implicit point of the 2007 tour documentary Heima, with its panoramic, mesmerizing vistas of Iceland, is that the beauty of Sigur Rós’ music is inseparable from its origins.
For those who never thought they’d see the words “double live album” mentioned in the same sentence as Sigur Rós, behold the arrival of Inni, a song-for-song relay (sans one omission) of the Reykjavík quartet’s 2008 performance at London’s Alexandra Palace. As uncharacteristic as this release seems for a band that’s long defied typical rock tropes (like, for instance, overstuffed “live in concert” collections) the impression listeners will ultimately take away from Inni is glacial, pristine, atmospheric, crystalline, and any other Iceland-esque descriptor relevant to the band’s body of work. In other words, Inni is Sigur Rós through and through, and any assumption that the album is incongruous with the band’s milieu is immediately disproven by the slow, haunting strains of “Ný Batterí” that open the first disc.
The band ignites on several occasions across this double-disc live set. Martin Aston 2011 Releasing a Greatest Hits album doesn’t seem very Sigur Rós, so this live album will have to do. Since the Icelanders haven’t released a new album since 2008 (and the follow-up to Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was scrapped before it was finished), Inni is also a welcome stopgap, if not the album fans wanted.