Lately, I feel like I'm going through sort of a weird musical shift, and I'm not sure whether it's me or simply that the artists I usually look forward to have slightly disappointed me with their last efforts. Most recently, Radiohead left me scratching my head with Hail To The Thief, and even further back than that, The Flaming Lips underwhelmed me with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Now, after a year between releases (well, not including their also-underwhelming limited release Hlemmer OST), Sigur Ros is back with some new material and I again yawn.
When () came out last year, I'll admit that it didn't strike me right at first, but eventually grew on me quite a bit before again dropping off the radar. In the middle somewhere, I saw the group live and they blew me away, putting on what was one of the best performances I've ever seen, even making me momentarily forget the most uncomfortable seeting I'd ever had the pleasure of plopping my ass into. Truth be told, there isn't a whole lot of new material on this latest Untitled EP (or "Vaka," as everyone seems to like calling it). In addition to the title track, there are only three other shorter pieces, all remixes of the same track, with a total running time of just under 12 minutes for the 3.
Musically, those three pieces take fragments of the original track and twist them in three slightly different directions. The first iteration mixes fluttering, filtered vocals with subtle shifting layers of drones and some more heavenly vocals from Jonski while the second piece speeds up a vocal loop before adding some lazy organ tinkering and a slowly-building drone in the background. The closing piece pulls things apart more, still keeping things firmly in droneland, but pulsing the sonics in order to make silence as big of a part of the song as the actual music itself. Unfortunately, none of the new tracks really take the song or music in any new directions, instead sort of meandering around an experimental area that feels more tossed-off and improvised (but not to a very precision level) than anything else.
Fortunatley, the saving grace of the bargain-priced EP set is that you also get a DVD with the first three videos by the group. The videos for "Svefn G Englar" and "Vidar Vel Til Loftarása" are near-transcendent each, the former with a rather free-form storyline and beauty, while the latter has a definite narrative that works amazingly with the track (and both feature great kisses). The third (the one for the title-track from the single) moves the group way past the line into absolutely absurdly pretentious ground, as kids play with gasmasks in a nuclear winter as ash falls from the sky (and they even build an ashman (instead of a snowman) - how precious!). The cinematography is great and it's nicely shot, but you might find yourself tripping on the heavy-handedness. If you're a big fan of the group, you'll want to plop down the money (which isn't a whole lot) for the videos and the songs will be a bit of a bonus, but if you're looking for anything new musically, you'll have to wait until they release something else.