Post-rock, whatever the term means, both musically and aesthetically, was one of the most interesting parts of growing up as a music fan in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It was somewhat of an umbrella tag to describe a movement that, without the total awareness or connectivity of today’s musical communities, was collectively trying to put forth all sorts of new ideas of what rock is or should sound like, similar to the Progressive Rock artists of the early 70’s or the post-punk groups. And what made this period all the more interesting is the fact that most of these developments happened in a coordinated manner in different locations around the globe.
The Montreal scene — mainly Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the Constellation Records roster — unraveled a style rumbling with orchestral grandeur and neoclassical ambitions, while most of the American bands expanded on the volume/timbre dynamics of rock guitar sounds; in Japan, groups like Mono and Sgt. embraced the global avant-garde and noise influences, and the European artists were simultaneously exploring ambient, electronic, jazz, and folk in their post-rock. And that brings us to Iceland, a country that doesn’t even reach half a million inhabitants, yet created one of the most fascinating musical environments of the world. Sigur Rós, and especially this record, were my gateway drug into that scene.
() is an album enshrouded in mystery; it traverses much darker regions than its predecessor, the absolute masterpiece Agætis Byrjún, and at the same time establishes a wider scope in terms of production. It feels more immediate melodically, yet by no means, it’s an easily accessible record, notably because most of its composition revolves around frontman Jónsi’s imaginary language, Vonlenska — also known as Hopelandic. This work is particularly informed by that contrast, framed by that contradiction. Abstract ambiances coexisting with Nordic folk harmonies, in a more pronounced way than everywhere else in the band’s catalog. Nevertheless, if there’s an element that defines the sonic identity of the album, it’s the collaborations of string quartet Amiina. Their arrangements set the pace, and most importantly, the emotional progression — from light and optimistic in the first half, to brooding and sinister in the second — in which the band moves, easing its way into the furious atmosphere in the last two tracks.
Sigur Rós defies categorization — and in this case, even rejects song titles altogether — but here they’ve reached a consistency that would come to outline their distinctive sound for the years to come.
While their first two releases were an exercise in loose experimentation and an all-encompassing magnum opus respectively, () cemented the fundamental aspects of their music in their now two-decade career. It serves as the logical introduction to the band, and its worldwide recognition also contributed to it becoming an introduction to Icelandic Post-Rock, and sometimes to the whole genre. Sigur Rós took me on a journey in which I discovered Múm, then the Scandinavian bands, the Japanese scene, modern classical composers, Ambient music, and IDM. And there’s no return from that trip.