The last Sigur Rós album was seen as the band’s most commercial offering to date. The arrangements seemed to strive towards something that could be loosely termed as “pop”. Band leader Jónsi Birgisson even sang in English on the final track All Alright. This ruffled a few feathers amongst those who preferred the abstract crooning that came with the nonsensical lyrics that Sigur Rós had employed down the years.
Some may find the use of English on this, Jónsi’s debut solo album, abhorrent. Others may welcome the opportunity to gain a more direct insight into the meanings of these songs. Either way, Jónsi’s delivery is such that it’s easy to get lost in what he’s doing with his voice rather than what is being said.
Those with an ear to the ground will have already caught the wonderful Boy Lilikoi, a song which is naïve in its approach to life and succeeds with a flurry of childlike innocence. It grows and swells with warmth, imploring those lucky enough to hear it to enjoy life before it is too late, with “use your life, the world goes and flutters by” being the key refrain. The vocal harmonies collapse over each other in seemingly endless fashion, drums thunder and skip in equal measure, and flutes are playfully light as they flutter around the ever growing strings. Has ‘pop’ music ever sounded this wonderful?
Likewise, opening track Go Do features an exquisite vocal and, although it’s possible to grab snatches of sense, it’s far easier to get swept up in the layered tones. The bass drum pounds like the heart of someone who’s just discovered what love at first sight means, while the flutes and piccolos flit around the central vocal like glittering fairies, adding a mysterious sparkle.
If there’s a theme to be found in the lyrics of Go, it must be that life is fleeting and is here to be enjoyed. This much is clear in the joyful percussive stomp of Animal Arithmetic, where the simple pleasures of combing hair and riding bikes take on an almost sepia toned charm. Delicate woodwind touches are hidden behind a glut of pummelling drums and assorted other clunks and whirs, but they colour the track just enough to ensure that the magical quality remains in what is otherwise a thunderous track.
Supporting Jónsi on this project is increasingly ubiquitous composer Nico Muhly. His arrangements are vital in ensuring that these songs attain spectacular heights. Tornado, to take one example, overflows with beautiful strings complementing a solitary bass-drum kick, and transforms a rather sinister song into something approaching that familiar ethereal Sigur Rós sound. Naturally Jónsi’s vocals soar into a higher register as the song builds to a climax, whereupon he sounds like an angel in the throws of sinful ecstasy.
Muhly’s presence is more keenly felt on Grow Till Tall and Hengilas. The tearaway percussion that drives Animal Arithmetic and the madly danceable Around Us is absent, and mournful strings take their place. Fans of earlier Sigur Rós material will find enough here to keep them happy, with cellos creating the pulse of the songs while Jónsi’s consonant-free vocal style returns to breathe life into them. If the likes of Boy Lilikoi are the life of Go’s party, then the aching cellos of Hengilas are its soul.
Go is a phenomenal record with almost every bar bursting with beauty. It is soulful, fun, naïve and sad in its own fantastical world; if only life really were this good. This is a record that will make you believe it could be.