SIGUR RÓS at Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Saturday (March 30), doors 7 pm. $36.50-$66.50. ACC, LN, TM. See listings.
"Fast" and "heavy" are words not typically used to describe the music of Sigur Rós, an Icelandic band known for gorgeous, glacially paced post-rock epics. But the past year has been one of energizing change.
Last summer, keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson opted not to tour in support of their Valtari album and then quit to pursue a career in classical music. Undeterred, singer/guitarist Jónsi Birgisson, bassist Georg Hólm and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason regrouped and started jamming in their Reykjavik rehearsal space.
The impact of Sveinsson's departure was apparent, as the band soon found out.
"The dynamics changed a little bit - and not in a bad way," Hólm says over the phone from Iceland. "We realized one day when we were working on this album that we hadn't put piano on any of the songs. It was kind of funny to realize that. Obviously, there would've been a lot of pianos if Kjartan were there."
While Valtari's choral work and meandering piano recalled the ethereal prettiness of their 1999 international breakthrough, Agætis Byrjun, Hólm describes their upcoming seventh LP, Kveikur (due out June 18), as an aggressive, unpretty reimagining of their signature sweeping, cinematic sound.
It was also made uncharacteristically quickly. Kveikur will materialize a mere 13 months after Valtari, which took four years.
"‘Outside your comfort zone' is a phrase I like to associate with [this album]," says Hólm. "We'd start playing a song and say, ‘Whoa, that's very different! Is that good or not?' And we just kept on going to see where it went. We surprised ourselves."
Take lead single Brennisteinn, a relentlessly hulking number with a grotesque, farting bass that lives up to the title ("sulphur" in Icelandic) and demonstrates Sigur Rós's newfound emphasis on rhythm.
The juiced-up sound is auspiciously timed: they're in the midst of their first North American arena tour, which kicked off at Madison Square Garden. The show opens with Sigur Rós and their 11-piece band surrounded by translucent gauze. Hólm refuses to elaborate except to say that, like their sound, the tripped-out visuals mix the familiar with the surprising.
"Although a lot of the songs are quite aggressive, it's not because we are aggressive," he says. "We're feeling energetic, and we really like what we're doing. Sometimes you can hear that a band doesn't like what they're doing as much as they should. But we're definitely enjoying this at the moment."