Good Magic: A Meditation on Sigur Ros

On August 25th 2015

Unfortunately, we live in an age where imagination, faith, and anything remotely fantastical has started to slip out of our fingers. We can pretty much prove anything to exist or not exist, there’s not much room left for any realm of mysticism, and there’s little we can do about it. In a sense, it sometimes feels like there’s nothing left to explore and our sense of optimism about the future has been replaced with the gnawing sense of our own isolation in the universe.

However, in the face of all of that, Iceland still exists. In Reykjavik, Iceland, about 75% of the population still believe in fairies. They have the Northern Lights, which is basically the world’s way of telling us “don’t give up, there’s still mystery out there.” They’re among the world’s healthiest countries, and not only because everyone has access to health care, but because everyone is genuinely happy and imaginative. According to the OECD, 83% of people claim to have more positive experiences in their day to day lives than negative. Egalitarianism is regarded so highly in their country that it’s ranked one of the best countries for women to live. Everyone is addressed by their first name, and there are no ranks of hierarchy. They have the highest number of bookstores per capita in the whole world. Their love of literature and storytelling surpasses any other country in the entire universe (that we know about so far).

And when it comes to music, Iceland is incredibly protective and nurturing of both their musicians and the work those musicians create. Their gift of Björk to the world made them so proud that they gave her an island to show their appreciation. A fucking island. Speaking of Björk, there’s another group whose music breaks through the rank and file limitations of sound and emotion and has the ability to snatch the listener up in a moment of (perceived at least) transcendence: Sigur Ros.

Sigur Rós is without a doubt one of the smartest, most progressively emotional post-rock bands of our era. From Jonsí’s falsetto vocals to their bowed guitar, their sound is unlike anything else on this planet. Sigur Rós also follows a common use of Glossolalia, which is an incomprehensible form of fluid-like speech, similar to speaking in tongues. This is used in music a lot of the time so that the music can become as personal to the specific person listening to it as is emotionally possible. And keeping within the tradition of storytelling, their music would be the equivalent to a literary epic tale. Long, drawn out stories told through compelling strings, empirical lyrics, and visceral synths that take you on the kind of musical journey that begins, once you’ve been immersed in it, to feel magical. The use of melancholic sound together with powerful crescendos and crashes, all recorded in opera houses or other sound-scape appropriate areas, is almost too much for one person to handle. Listening to their albums from start to finish is like taking a road trip through a fantastical land, falling in love, falling out of love, and getting out of it all OK.

Another gift that Sigur Rós possesses is their outwardly perceptive and soul penetrating videos. It’s tough enough to have to endure a certain visual when you’ve listened to a certain song and made it your own, but Sigur Rós’ videos are always forgivable beacuse they paint something so unbelievably pure and beautiful that you will laugh and cry repeatedly during each extended sitting with them. From a group of teenagers with Down Syndrome dressed as angels running and falling in love in the Northern hills, or a gaggle of older folk wreaking havoc in their neighborhood and holding hands and splashing all the way, to a group of Scandinavian children and making them fly away from any bounds of real world realizations, it’s almost like this group are actual angels on Earth.

Listening to their album is an experience in itself. They, as a whole, create a sound that’s so specific, it would seem as if they broke off and worked alone, the same feelings wouldn’t be produced. Until you realize that’s not the case with them, and anything Jonsí even breathes on is like tasting a piece of Heaven. Take his song “Kaleidoscope” with Tiesto circa 2009. One of the best progressive-trance producers in the industry and the lead singer of one of the most popular Icelandic bands to date came together and created a sound I certainly did not think was attainable in this realm. The song plays and chills instantly permeate your entire body. Your eyes fill up because there is something going on in your ears that’s climbed into your brain, your heart and soul and soaked into your veins. Jonsí’s innocent and almost child-like sounding vocals paired with some of the most ethereal synths you’ll likely hear is almost too much for one’s body to comprehend. They somehow possess this power to make your body shut down completely as the music radiates throughout every pore of your skin. Truly, it’s like some angel or spirit has entered your ears and possibly your body.

There’s only so much to be written about a band that can only be understood when listened to. It’s like trying to take an otherworldly miraculous experience and trying to make it tangible enough for other people to understand. It just can’t be done unless you experience the mystery in their music. If you’re doubting the transcendence of music, listen to “Svefn-g-englar” with your eyes closed, limbs spread out, and allow the music to completely take you over.

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