Sigur Rós is a four-piece experimental/progressive rock band from Iceland. Their sound can be compared to that of Mogwai, Spiritualized, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, or Radiohead. Translated, Sigur Rós literally means "Victory Rose", but the band's true namesake is a take on the lead singer sister's name, Sigurros.
Sigur Rós is:
Jón þor "Jónsi" Birgisson – vocals, guitars
Georg "White Fang" Holm – bass, backup vocals
Kjartan Sveinsson – keyboards (1998-2013)
Agúst – drums (1994-1999)
Orri Páll "Animal" Dýrason – drums (1999 - current)
Sigur Rós is known for their hauntingly beautiful live shows, often playing with the accompaniment of films showing such things as sleeping babies, or birds on a telephone wire (a la American Beauty's dancing plastic bag). They are also known for their effects-laden atmospheric sound: Thom Yorke-esque vocals, which Jónsi uses to sing in Icelandic infused with his own made-up language Hopelandic, on top of sometimes unusual instrumental techniques such as Georg playing bass with drumsticks, or Jónsi playing guitar with a cello bow. Preferring intimate and clean venues such as churches over stadiums, and preferring candles to large theatrical lights, they have been known to ask clubs to close the bar during performances so the audience can listen to the music instead of hearing the sounds of cash registers and clinking drinks. In addition, their tours sometimes have included backing by a string quartet or Rimnamenns (singers of medival Icelandic chants).
The band was formed in 1994 by Jónsi, Georg and their original drummer, Agúst. All of the members were in their late teens. Frontman Jónsi had previously fronted two bands, and was the only one of the bunch who could sing. Bassist Georg was previously educated as a filmmaker. Keyboardist Kjartan was added after the release of the band's second album, and as the only member of the band who had studied music, created the string arrangements. Orri was the last member added to the current line-up, as drummer Agúst left the band to pursue a career in graphic design after the release of the band's third (but first in the US) album.
They independently recorded their first song, painting the recording studio in exchange for studio time there. Their first release was in l994, when they were included in a compilation of independent Icelandic artists celebrating 50 years of Icelandic independence from Denmark. This song earned them a deal with Bad Taste Records, who in 1997 released the band's first album Von (Hope). Von was well received in Iceland and spawned a No. 1 hit. In 1998, Von Brigði (literally 'Variations on Hope', but titled 'Recycle Bin' in the English-Speaking world) was released. The album is comprised of remixes of songs off Von by Gus Gus, Biogen, and others, including Sigur Rós themselves.
Sigur Rós began recording their third album, Ágætis Byrjun (A Good Start) in the summer of 1998 at Reykjavik's Studio Sasyrland with Ken Thomas, previously a producer of another popular Icelandic group, the Sugarcubes. The album was released in 1999 and slowly climbed to the top of the charts in Iceland, where it stayed in the top 10 for over a year. Ágætis Byrjun, which got its name when a friend of the band heard the first song and commented it was 'a good start', is much more string-infused and less dark then their previous releases. The album was, and still continues to be, a huge success. It racked up numerous awards, such as Best Album, Best Band, Best Vocalist, and Best Guitarist of the year at the Icelandic Music Awards. After signing with UK independent distributor Fat Cat Records, the first single from the album, Svefn-G-Englar, was released in September 1999. It was the first taste outlanders had of the band and it sparked large amounts of hype from all over the world. A second single followed and the band started opening for Godspeed You Black Emperor! and on the European leg of the Radiohead tour. All of this hype caused a massive bidding war in the US, culminating with MCA Records signing the band and releasing the album domestically in 2000. In 2001, Sigur Rós gained even more attention stateside by supplying three tracks to the Cameron Crowe film Vanilla Sky, including an unreleased track at the pleading of Crowe who was blown away after attending a live show. The band also has won the inaugural American Shortlist Prize (a clone of the coveted Mercury Shortlist Prize in the UK) They were awarded a $10,000 cash prize, as well has having $10,000 donated in their name to the victims of the September 11th attacks. The band later donated their prize to the New York Association of New Americans, which helps immigrant worker families below the reach of welfare, who have lost family in the events of September 11th.
Originally, the band intended to record their follow-up to Ágætis Byrjun in a disused NATO tracking base in the northernmost mountain in Iceland, but after closer inspection decided it was too unpractical. Instead, the band converted an abandoned swimming pool in Mosfellsbær into their new studio. In order to get all their equipment in the space, part of the roof had to be removed and the equipment lowered in by crane. After spending most of 2002 in the studio, the band finally released its second album under the MCA label: an untitled release dubbed (). The album featured two distinct sections - almost a day and night, but what the band calls "sweet and heavy" - separated by 36 seconds of silence between tracks 4 and 5. The CD, which was released with a different cover design for each of the four regions of the globe, was a minamilist's wet dream: No linear notes, no song titles, and no real words in the songs as the album features all hopelandic lyrics. More polished, atmospheric, and slightly darker than its predecessor, () is a more challenging, but rewarding listen and was a huge seller world-wide. Most definetely a headphones album it features several songs Sigur Rós had been playing at their live shows for years.
Sigur Rós is not the typical rowdy rock band. As reported in an article for Rolling Stone, if you were to wander around backstage at a concert you're likely to find them stone-cold sober, hanging around and reading Paul Auster and Douglas Coupland. However, their favorite pastime on the road seems to be complaining about buses and hotels. They have been known, while in Germany, to complain to the front desk that all the television programs are in German.
Sigur Rós is one of the few bands I have heard compared to Radiohead that actually might merit it, as musically they sometimes fall along the same path. Also, interestingly enough, just as Radiohead's frontman Thom Yorke is ocularly impaired, Jónsi has been blind in one eye since birth.
Sigur Rós Discography
1997 Von (Hope)
- Sigur Rós (Victory Rose)
- Dögun (Dawn)
- Hún Jörð (Mother Earth)
- Leit Að Lífi (Search for Life)
- Myrkur (Darkness)
- 18 sekúndur fyrir sólarupprás (18 Seconds Before Sunrise)
- Hafssól (The Sun's Sea)
- Veröld Ný Og óð (a World, New and Crazed)
- Von (Hope)
- Mistur (Mist)
- Syndir Guðs (opinberun frelsarans) (Sins of god (Revelation of the Savior))
1998 Von Brigði / (Recycle Bin)
- Syndir Guðs (remix)
- Syndir Guðs (remix)
- Leit Af Lífi (remix)
- Myrkur (remix)
- Myrkur (remix)
- 180 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás (remix)
- Hún Jörð (remix)
- Leit Af Lífi (remix)
- Von (remix)
- Leit Af Lífi (remix)
1999 Ágætis Byrjun (A Good Start)
- Svefn-g-englar (Sleepwalkers)
- Starálfur (Staring Elf)
- Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly Freer)
- Ný Batterí (New Batteries)
- Hjartað Hamast (bamm bamm bamm) (The Heart Pounds (boom boom boom))
- Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása (Good Weather For Airstrikes)
- Olsen Olsen (Hopelandic)
- Ágætis Byrjun (A Good Start)
2002 () (Untitled CD with eight untitled tracks)
- Untitled (Vaka)
- Untitled (Fyrsta - First)
- Untitled (Samskeyti - Attachment)
- Untitled (Njósnavélin - Spy Machine)
- Untitled (Álafoss - The band's studio: a converted swimming pool outside of Reykjavik)
- Untitled (Ebow)
- Untitled (Dauðalagið - Death Song)
- Untitled (Popplagið - Pop Song)
2005 Takk... (Thanks...)
2008 Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly)
2012 Valtari (Roller)