Ethereal, vast and almost tangible in its density, 'Valtari', the sixth album from Icelandic innovators Sigur Ros has the hallmarks of a canonical work, however for all its lofty ambitions the album lacks a focused narrative which could have made it something sublime.
Built upon a canopy of lush sonic soundscapes, the record has been described as ‘an avalanche in slow motion’ – and for good reason. Conjuring up images of the natural, spacious and inherently Icelandic, it is an interesting – sometimes uncomfortable listen that has introverted, neurotic undercurrents which sit within the sonic plains. An effect dictated by Jonsi’s haunting falsetto drifting through in his trademark 'Hopelandic' lyrics.
'Valtari', the band’s first album since a self-imposed hiatus, is a paradoxical work. It typifies much of what we have come to know and love about Sigur Ros, and yet is undeniably more peripheral. The common consensus after the release of 2008’s 'Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust' was that the band stood on a precipice – dangerously close to relenting to a commercial aesthetic which would see record sales soar but perhaps compromise their original appeal. What has instead happened is the opposite – they’ve pulled too far the other way and have produced a record which sounds ambient on first listen and lacks the climatic crescendo of their mighty back catalogue.
It is both vast and claustrophobic, an avalanche in slow motion indeed, and one that comes close to asphyxiation. For all of the skill and complexity, which Sigur Ros have exhibited throughout the years, this record feels more like retraction than growth. A transition record perhaps, but one that is typified by introversion and lack of light.