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Sigur Rs - Hvarf / Heim

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Artist: Sigur Rs

Album: Hvarf / Heim

Label: XL

Review date: Nov. 6, 2007


Sigur Rós - "Von" (Hvarf / Heim)


The dictionary differentiates between pleasing to act to the pleasure or satisfaction of" and obsequious "attentive in an ingratiating or servile manner." Sigur Rs have exhibited a tendency to blur the line between the two, and with the double-EP, 72-minute Hvarf / Heim, they continue to balance between well-mannered and excessively groomed. For many listeners, this release will reveal many footfalls on the wrong side of that line.

The first EP, Hvarf ("disappeared"), offers five tracks that were either unrecorded, unreleased, or have been entirely revisited. The second, Heim ("home"), contains six live acoustic performances of songs from the band's four studio albums. The songs on Hvarf follow a rise-and-fall methodology, buoyed by grand upward rushes of voice and strings. The first two keep things fairly sedate and, while pretty enough, don't generate a lot of listener involvement. " Gr" follows, and bears a fair similarity to bands like Mono and Explosions in the Sky, mining a repeated pattern of calm followed by a burst of guitars and drums. The predictability wouldn't be a problem if it weren't that, like many of the songs here, the same theme is repeated over and over with no real change. Often, the theme is handed from voice to instrument and back, but it varies little throughout the song.

"Von" and "Hafsl" complete the disc, both nearly 10 minutes in length. The former has a certain majesty to it that can't be denied, but has trouble maintaining interest over its length. The latter begins with an appealing bass burble and drone, but soon bogs down in a lethargic tide of voice and drone. An upward swell enters thats a momentary break from the monotony but dies down without actually taking us anywhere. Seven minutes in, the band finally breaks into a canter, but it just washes along until things die down, leaving a lone recorder and quiet drone to carry us another minute or so to the end.

The disc of acoustic performances opens with "Samskeyti," whose piano motif transitions from pretty to grating by the time it reaches its conclusion five minutes later. Elsewhere, string drones, piano and vibes (among other instruments) ring and chime under the trademark incantatory vocals, evoking a certain melancholy yet never quite making the jump to effecting. The proceedings always feel oh-so-carefully measured and calculated, like jazz with the fire removed to make it suitable for dinnertime lounge play. There's something here, and there' s no denying the skill of the players and singer. But there's a comfort level always sustained that eliminates any chance of surprise, pleasant or otherwise. Interesting while it may be to hear these acoustic versions, what's surprising is that the originals sacrifice none of the beauty while offering more energy.

It's tempting to label Sigur Rs as Windham Hill for those who want something hip but smooth. Listening to these songs is like being a rat in a maze: Every move is calculated for you, and if you follow the path as laid out, you'll get your dessert. But while things seem sweet for a while, there's no escaping a feeling of constriction. It's all so tightly buttoned down that the first listen evokes a certain dj vu; You haven't heard it before, and yet you know what's going to happen anyway.

By Mason Jones

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