I’ll say it up front, I was hesitant to listen to this album. I’ve been like this with nearly every Sigur Rós-related release for the past decade or so. Although it’s been on my radar for months, ever since the official Sigur Rós website posted teaser clips counting down to the www.jónsi.com launch, I’ve been awaiting this album with a mixture of curiosity and fear. You know what I’m talking about. That band that’s been with you for over a decade, through valleys and peaks of internet hype and lack thereof, the band that’s provided the soundtrack to the most significant of life’s emotional cornerstones. For me, that band has been Sigur Rós, and to a certain extent, the sweeping falsetto of Sigur Rós vocalist/guitarist Jon “Jónsi” Þor Birgisson.
Áegeatis Byrjun is the album that plays as I reminisce about my first quasi-nervous breakdown at age 19. Endless repeats of “Svefn-g-englar” will still cause me to well up with conflicting emotions, of dropping out of school, and foolishly severing ties with my closest friends. ( ) may be SR’s bleakest album, shedding most of the orchestral jubilance of AB, but for me it is the playlist for my epic return to form: moving to Vermont, going back to school, and moving in with the girl of my dreams. Takk and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust are similarly monumental (getting married to the ( ) girl, and returning to NC, the place most closely associated with AB).
So, you can probably understand the hesitancy that comes with every new release. Each new record ushers another opportunity for me to listen to my life again. My fear is the possibility that perhaps I will not see myself in the latest release, that the band may have strayed too far from my course, and that those individuals responsible for providing the score to my life’s significant mile markers will no longer do so. Maybe its nostalgia, I don’t know.
It’s a long introduction for Jónsi’s first proper solo release (assuming you discount the Riceboy Sleeps/Jónsi & Alex collaboration), but I hope it offers some insight into my perspective and approach to this record. That said, Go continues in the same direction hinted at on Sigur Rós’s Með suð. It’s all here: fluttering flutes, emotive string arrangements, the cacophony of bells, xylophones and various twinkling noises, and of course, Jónsi’s falsetto, layers and layers of the voice that made SR so distinguishable from the masses of epic, post-rock forgettables.
Yes, this is the poppier, more direct version of Með suð, but it also branches out in its own way apart from SR. With the exception of “Kolnðiur” and “Heniglás,” nearly all the songs are in English—and not that barely audible English that was “All Alright” on Með suð. No, we’ve got lyrics we can understand, and as a longtime fan of Jónsi, I was curious as to whether English lyrics would take away from what I considered one of the most pleasurable aspects of Jónsi’s singing: translating songs based on pure emotion and experiential context.
Surprisingly, one of the things I love most about Go is its lyrical themes. Opener “Go Do” begins “Go sing too loud / Make your voice break / Sing it out / Go scream, do shout / Make an earthquake.” The song builds with flute, glitch electronic samplings of Jónsi’s squeaks and peeps, and thumping percussion. He continues, “Go drum, too loud / Make your hands ache / Play it out / Go march through crowds / Make your day break.” It’s opening burst of flittering excitement, followed immediately by “Animal Arithmetic” with its pounding percussive elements, clacking and emphatic declarations of “everything full of life.”
“Tornado” slows things down, way down, with piano and graceful string arrangements (arranged by Nico Muhly, composer familiar to fans of Grizzly Bear). “Tornado” could easily have been a Sigur Rós track, and like a couple others (“Grow Till Tall” especially), it’s hard to see this as a clean departure from the band.
“Boy Lilikoi” was given out free as an mp3 via Jónsi’s website, and has firmly replaced the Arcade Fire for my musical association with Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. Like “Go Do” and “Animal Arithmetic,” the track is an affirmation of primal life: “You grind your claws, you howl, you growl unafraid of Hoi Polloi / You run, you’re free, you climb endless trees – You reignite / You growl, you howl, you show your teeth / You bite, it’s alright.”
“Sinking Friendships” is the highlight of the album. The song is a wall of ethereal shimmering with vocal loops and strings. A piano keeps time until ever-changing drum sounds take over. In fact, it’s the drums/percussion that sells this one for me. It has that snare-type cadence with glitchy and distorted sounds, which compliment the traditional acoustic instruments perfectly.
Of course, one of the things that I feel that this record is guilty of is a fetishizing of naiveté and innocence. Sigur Rós have always employed child-like images and birds, and at times Go seems to reject adulthood to a point where it’s hard to relate to it lyrically. Like the video for “Gobbledigook” featuring slender young adults (and the band) running naked and glittered through the woods, Go is an attempt to continue that fantasy. And for some, it may be difficult to sustain the fantasy.
However, I listen to this album with the knowledge that my wife and I are currently expecting a child, and Go’s youthful exuberance and rejection of the adult world helps ease some of my fears and anxiety. I listen and welcome sounds of rebirth and reawakening.
You can stream Go in its entirety on the NPR website and buy it in stores April 6.