|Photo by: Amazon|
Key Tracks: "Varúð," "Rembihnútur"
Inspiration is a tough thing to generate. It’s generally fleeting, which is why it’s always talked about as “moments” rather than “years” or even “minutes.”
This can create quite a problem when art becomes commercialized and successful. Most times, artists gain a level of success initially for a crowning artistic achievement. Then, once businesses see the commercial appeal (and the dollar signs), they attempt to get in on the action. Thus, was born the recording contract.
Lots of recording contracts are drawn up specifying the length of time the artist will be under said contract, and how much material the artist must release in that given time-frame. Here’s where the problem arises: What happens when a band is contracted to put out an album, but they lack the inspiration that made them lucrative to that label in the first place? You get mediocre material, that’s what.
That isn’t to say that’s the case with Sigur Rós and their new album Valtari, but it certainly feels like it. The album is like that gorgeous guy or girl you used to see, but no longer do since you found out there really wasn’t a whole lot to them besides "being really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking.”
And Valtari is gorgeous, that’s for damn sure. It certainly has all the surface elements of a great Sigur Rós album; Jónsi’s wispy gibberish, as beautiful as ever (even during the times he fails to recreate the vocal effect from Kid A), all the ambiance, as well as the pretty, dissonant string arrangements and piano lines.
Valtari lifts you up and feels like it’s taking you somewhere right from the outset, but as it goes on you realize you're just drifting through space instead of en route to some divine destination.
The lack of direction is really what makes the album so puzzling. The band has inched their way from their intrepid post-rock works towards accessibility--a deliberate move to be sure as they gained more notoriety--but Valtari is a step in an alternate, more undefined direction.
There are moments that save grace, but they end up being simultaneously the best and worst parts of the album simply because it reminds you of how great the rest of their catalog is and how very unlike Valtari is from it.
"Varúð," for instance, is reminiscent of something found on Takk… with its Herculean percussion that helps build the song into a distorted guitar freak-out before ending all too abruptly.
Valtari certainly gets points for being pleasant. No one will ever say “turn this off, I can’t stand it.” But that should never be what a band aims for, and it makes the lack of inspiration all the more prevalent.
It just goes to show that it can happen to anyone. Last year people were discussing whether or not Radiohead had released a dud, now Sigur Rós may become subject to the same scrutiny.
There’s effort on Valtari, but effort and inspiration aren’t the same thing. Great art thrives on inspiration, and effort without inspiration might as well just be filling out a spreadsheet.
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