Jónsi & Alex is the performance name for Sigur Rós frontman Jón Thor Birgisson and his partner, Alex Somers. It is not overstatement to say that what they’ve made together is one of the most beautifully arresting and emotionally redolent albums of 2009. Riceboy Sleeps shimmers with enchantment.
The name Riceboy Sleeps is sponged from an art collaboration project the pair have been working on for the last few years (Somers also does much of the graphic design for Sigur Rós), but this is the first time the duo have unleashed a musical element to their project. The first fruits borne of the collaboration appeared on the Dark Was The Night charity compilation, compiled by The National‘s Aaron and Bryce Dessner for The Red Hot Organization.
The song featured there was Happiness, and it is with that wonky string-laden heart-tugger that Riceboy Sleeps begins. It sets the tone for the ensuing mesmeric and captivating music that defines an album which is utterly humane, pulsating with a tangible and almost ceremonial poignancy, breathing with a hushed but powerful majesty.
It is largely instrumental. Jónsi’s vocal contributions are sparse, but his delicate falsetto is typically heartwarming when it fleetingly appears. Sigur Rós’s longtime string players, Amiina, are also employed on Riceboy Sleeps. To this end, reference points include the most introspective moments of Sigur Rós. But this is only half the story.
Merely blotting out the rousing builds and explosive crescendos from Sigur Rós’ catalogue does not paint an accurate portrait. Imagine it this way: if Sigur Rós’ Takk was The Bends, then Jónsi & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps is Amnesiac. That’s not to say it shares the pummelling rhythms of Revolving Doors, or the menacing guitar of I Might Be Wrong. Far from it. But it taps into the same greater sense of introspection, the same sense that not all music has to be delivered as directly as possible.
And perhaps this is one of the central reasons why Riceboy Sleeps is such a powerful listen. It’s gloriously pedestrian in its unfurling musical narrative. Its lilting layers and gentle yet rich aural vistas occupy a plane higher than popular musical ideas, and to utterly transcending effect.
Throughout there is a sense of hope, of corporeal rejuvenation, and it’s a challenge not to be affected by the record’s optimism.
Talk is cheap, however, but listening to the prim yet weepy strings of Indian Summer or the hymnal, heavenly choir of Daníell In The Sea could bring a tear to a glass eye. Put simply, it’s a deeply beautiful record.