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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001

HIGH NOTES

Sigur Ros


Since the worldwide release of their second album, "Agtis Byrjun," last year, Iceland's Sigur Ros has been dogged by more pretentious journalism than any pop group in history. Melody Maker took the cake when it described the group's music as "the sound of God weeping tears of gold in heaven."

Since only one of Sigur's four members speaks interview-level English, generally they can avoid having to explain their music (bassist Georg Holm, the one anglophone, in any case says they've never heard of half the bands they're compared to), which leaves them more time to work on it. Reportedly, Sigur's shows have already moved beyond the material on "Agtis Byrjun," but whether the playlist for their upcoming Japan tour is from their new record -- in the can since early spring but as yet unreleased -- no one knows.

Still, one doesn't look to Sigur for hits. The music is more melodic and structured than like-minded groups such as Godspeed You Black Emperor!, with whom they've toured, but texture is the key to their unique sound. The barely contained chaos of "Hjartao Hamast" is layered in volume: cymbal crashes, tom-toms and Jonsi's keening vocals flying over a quiet bed of noodling wind instruments and puttering bass. Much has been made of the fact that the lyrics are in a made-up language, but words are less important than Jonsi's affection for rushed inhalations and soft glottal effects, which are recorded at a near whisper and then elevated as high as possible in the mix.

Though it's a reference the group may not appreciate, Sigur Ros is much closer in sound to early Pink Floyd records than the current cult of English groups, like Spiritualized, who clearly try to re-create them. The complex crescendo of piano-synth-string interplay on "Olsen Olsen" could have been an outtake from "Meddle," the Floyd album that has become a bible for shoe-gazers. If there's a difference, it's that Sigur's approach relies even less on ego.

In concert, the quartet are difficult to make out, illuminated by dim, blue spots and candlelight. They've said they prefer playing in churches to playing in auditoriums, but I have a feeling they'd like caves best of all. It suits their insular temperament. And think of all that reverb.

Sigur Ros: Oct. 11, 7 p.m., at Nagoya Club Quattro, (052) 264-8211; Oct. 12, 7 p.m., at Shinsaibashi Club Quattro, Osaka (06) 6281-8181; Oct. 14, 6 p.m., and Oct. 15, 7 p.m., at Shibuya Club Quattro, Tokyo (Creativeman [03] 5466-0777). Tickets 5,500 yen in advance.


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