SIGUR RÕS at Massey Hall (176 Victoria), Wednesday (October 30), $39.50. 416-870-8000.
In the wake of sigur rós's pro-tracted, very peculiar major-label bidding war -- one that featured a frantic scramble for the signature of perhaps the most uncommercial band on the planet -- there were several equally odd rumours surrounding the band.Depending on who you believed, the Icelandic quartet's phenomenally successful Ágaetis Byrjun disc -- characterized by mammoth, slow-moving art-rock soundscapes sung in a wordless gurgle -- was to be followed up by a disc entirely in English, built around shorter pop songs or featuring collaborations with Radiohead. Any of these moves would have drastically increased Sigur Rós's commercial appeal and made their new bosses giddy with joy.
Instead, they've released ( ), a record with no lyrics, no song titles and no album title that's even more puzzling than Ágaetis Byrjun. The band members insist that it wasn't a deliberate attempt to wind up their new label, but they understand it might be a bit confusing.
"I think the label knew what they were getting into when they approached us," Sigur Rós keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson reasons from Copenhagen. "We expected to get that call [now he affects an American accent], "What about something, you know, shorter and maybe in English?' but it never came. I'm not sure why, but we wouldn't have listened anyway.
"Everyone was very surprised when we presented the record and there were no song titles, no lyrics and no title, but after some discussions they understood that it was a good idea.
"Titles and lyrics can distract you from what the music is, and we felt the music stood for itself. I mean, there were silly working titles that leaked out, but those had nothing to do with the songs. One of the songs was at one point called The Pop Song, and if you hear it it's obviously not a pop song!"
If anything, the blank slate of ( ) only increases the mystery around a band that already does everything in its power to deflect attention away from its members and toward the music. On Ágaetis Byrjun, listeners couldn't understand what frontman Jonsi Birgisson was singing, so they made up their own lyrics. It's a process Sigur Rós are now actively encouraging; the liner notes for ( ) offer blank pages for listeners to write in their own words.
"We wanted to give the listeners the opportunity to experience their own emotions," Sveinsson insists. "It gives the listener some credit, which a lot of bands don't do. It also gives us a bit of a break.
"We don't have any grand ideas about what the songs are about. The feelings we have when we are playing them change every day, and that's the same with people listening to the record. Maybe the next album, we'll have lyrics and a concept."
Musically, ( ) sacrifices the art rock/chamber music feel of Ágaetis Byrjun for something rawer and much more intense. Sigur Rós's familiar pattern of building epics slowly toward an apocalyptic finish remains, but the results are more severe.
It's all very cryptic. Dig a little deeper, though, and the title of the album at least makes sense. Just as it looks, ( ) is a record of two halves, with four moody and four intense tracks split by 30 seconds of silence.
"We only realized how evenly the songs were split after we finished recording. This is a very big album, especially toward the end, so it just made sense to split it up.
"The gap was necessary for the listener. It's nice to get a small break, especially when you're listening to something this heavy. It can be exhausting."firstname.lastname@example.org