Album #265: Jónsi – Shiver

  • Released: 2020
  • Origin: Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Label: Krunk
  • Best Track: Beautiful Boy

Recently, I was trying to name my favourite album of every year in the ’10s, and for 2010, I went with Sigur Rós frontman Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson’s solo debut Go. That may have been a result of how little new music I was listening to at the time, but it was a very good album. I saw him live just after its release too, and it was one of the most stunning live performances I’ve ever seen, even topping my experience of Sigur Rós.

If there was a criticism to be made of Go, it was that it wasn’t much different to his work with his band, and you could have imagined it to be a Sigur Rós record. That’s not a problem for me as I love Sigur Rós, but perhaps some listeners might hope to hear a different and more personal direction on a solo album.

Today, Jónsi releases his follow up to Go a full decade later, and seems to have shaken things up with a more electronic and experimental element, working alongside producer and PC Music head A. G. Cook. The result is a polished record with much more of a pop and dance element than his previous work. But personally, I’m not that big on it.

In particular, the single ‘Salt Licorice’ (featuring guest vocals from Robyn of ’90s dance hit ‘Show Me Love’ fame) doesn’t appeal to me at all, and one or two tracks verge on the annoying. With Jónsi’s voice carrying such beauty, it seems a shame to mask it behind computerised effects on tracks like ‘Swill’.

I do appreciate some of the more avant garde moments on the album, with the rumble and screech of ‘Kórall’ reminiscent of his band’s strange but superb debut album Von, and ‘Grenade’ is his most impressive vocal performance. Most of all, I find the lullaby-like ‘Beautiful Boy’ an eerie yet tender closer, with the vocal effects on this occasion giving a touch of Uncanny Valley that I find unsettling, but also beautifully vulnerable.

Of course, artists are always bound to want to change their style and sound, and Shiver reflects that, but I find it hard to say much more than “fair play for having a go” to Jónsi on this occasion.

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