Album #102: Sigur Rós – Valtari

  • Released: 2012
  • Origin: Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Best Track: Varúð

I often wonder what I was doing musically in the early 2010s. I was in a phase where I’d stopped buying CDs, but hadn’t really taken to streaming or collecting vinyl, with the result being that my listening experiences stagnated somewhat.

Sigur Rós probably sum this up more than any other band. I own all their albums in one format or another, except 2012’s Valtari, which I’ve never even heard. It’s definitely time I sorted this out.

In the Sigur Rós catalogue, I see their debut Von (1997) as dark and experimental, Ágætis Byrjun (1999) as similarly dark but more accessible, the “brackets” album ( ) (2002) as sad and mournful (and their best work), Takk… (2005) as mainstream, expansive and symphonic, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2008) as joyful and poppy, and latest album Kveikur (2013) as gloomy and abrasive. I was interested to see where sixth album Valtari sits in their collection, having skipped from fifth to seventh.

Having now filled this void, the best word I can think of to describe it is “tranquill”. It’s peaceful music, without the panaramic feel of Takk… or the harshness of Kveikur, and the piano sounds a lot scarcer than on Með suð.

I love Jónsi’s vocals, but he does have a tendency to coo on a bit aimlessly on occasions, like on the first two tracks on this album. ‘Varuð’ is where it really gets going for me, with some wonderful loud and quiet contrasts. The tracks near the end stand out too, especially the calm but somehow unsettling title track.

Valtari has its moments, but I’d have to say it’s my least favourite Sigur Rós album to date. I just don’t quite “feel” the music in the same way as with their other releases, and find myself listening more passively. It’s by no means bad though, perhaps giving it a solid claim to be one of the best worst albums I’ve heard from a band.

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