You've never had to be fluent in Icelandic to understand Sigur Rós's music, though it would probably help.
For more than a decade now, they've been making massive-sounding, glacially paced post-rock, with lyrics delivered in Icelandic (or sometimes in a completely made-up language called "Vonlenska") by otherworldly voiced frontman Jónsi Birgisson, and in the process, they've developed a worldwide following — almost in spite of themselves. (Read our report on the band's recent show in Iceland in the MTV Newsroom blog.)
So when time came for the group to being work on the follow-up to their 2005 album Takk ..., they decided to throw those loyal fans another curveball. For the first time, they ditched the meticulously produced epics for which they'd been known, and let things get loose. They were going to have fun. And, in perhaps the boldest move of all, they were going to make their songs more accessible ... by singing in English.
"We talked about it often, and for this record it was the right time," bassist Georg "Goggi" Hólm told MTV News. "It is a record where we're kind of letting go and doing whatever we feel like and not thinking too much about it. So, we decided to try writing songs in English this time. Some of them just didn't work out, so we switched them to Icelandic, but for one song — the last one on the record, called 'All Alright' — it worked, so we did it in English."
And with that, the new Sigur Rós was born. The group wrote a boatload of songs over one week, shelved them for a year, and then, early last year, they revisited what they had done. With the help of legendary producer Flood (Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, U2), they began to assemble the bits and pieces. Moving at a breakneck pace (in about a month), they completed the new album, which they gave the decidedly Sigur Rós-ian title Með Suð í Eyrum Við spilum endalaust (it means "With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly").
"The attitude for the record was doing it quick and fast and leaving the mistakes in, and with that comes spontaneity, and happiness and screaming things out," Hólm laughed. "So, in that spirit, it was all finished within a couple of months. It was really spontaneous, and I think it was something we really needed, because we usually take two years to finish everything, so it was time we just let it go."
"There are moments that we probably could've gone back to fix, but we decided to leave them in because we wanted it to be done fast," drummer Orri Páll Dýrason added. "We were recording strings in [keyboardist Kjarri Sveinsson's] living room, and he went to the bakery at one point, so we kept recording. And at one point, he comes back and there's a 'drrrring' of the doorbell in the middle of the song. But we kept it in. We kept everything in."
And that loosening of the reigns isn't the only change that can be heard on the new record. There's also an unabashed sense of joy in many of the songs, like first single "Gobbledigook," which is full of handclaps and whistles and sunny, strummy guitars. The accompanying video is packed with nudes galloping through the forest. It's about as un-Sigur-Rós-ian as you can imagine, and the concept has spilled over into the band's notoriously minimalist (and quiet) live shows. For the first time ever, fans are standing, cheering and even — gasp! — rushing the stage. And the band couldn't be happier.
"I think we've changed a lot musically — and in life too — we have grown up, and we're all liking people being quite noisy. We're liking these standing audiences," Hólm said. "Sometimes it's boring when people are sitting there going, 'Ssssh! Don't say anything,' because we're up for a rowdy crowd."
"It makes us happy, too," Dýrason said. "People are worried that if they speak during our shows, they'll cause us to make mistakes. But we think it's OK, because we always make plenty of mistakes. It's fine."