Valtari, the sixth album from the Icelandic experimental pop quartet Sigur Ros doesn’t play with the formula that had served them well for 13 years. With generous helpings of their signature slow building melodies gloriously reimagined in tracks like “Ekki Mukk” and “Fjogur Piano” and enough falsetto to make Chris Martin turn green, Sigur Ros turn out an enjoyable album that should really be called “Takk… — The Sequel.”
All the Sigur Ros hallmarks are here. Lead singer, Jonsi Birgisson’s haunting falsetto vocals burn through the muddy beds of intangible instrumentation. The band’s mellow sounds are so richly orchestrated that the individual instruments are indistinguishable and yet the sound retains a refreshingly organic timbre. Tracks like “Rembihnutur” crackle with the strong rhythmic pulse only to be met with looser, more ambient compositions like “Valtari.” This contrast works in much the same way that show stopping “Glosoli” and mellow “Milano” worked on Takk… seven years ago.
To say that Valtari is similar to Ros’ other work is not to say this album is not a triumph. The combination of familiar, organic sounds, performed in a totally unusual foreign context to lyrics written in a combination of Icelandic and gibberish that gives Sigur Ros’ music the ability to appeal to what is familiar, and transport us to places that are foreign.
There are certain unwelcome changes to the formula. While there might have been a bit of old world ambiance on previous tracks, the lengthy use of the scratchy record filter on “Ekki Mukk” is pervasive and detracts from the song. It is a pity that the band failed to realise.
Sigur Ros have proven themselves adept at challenging the pop music orthodoxy. This role of avant garde provocateurs has served them well for thirteen years. Unfortunately, for a sound based on epic climaxes, Sigur Ros’ Valtari remains ironically static.