Sigur Ros – Valtari (album) (XL Recordings)

It has been four long years since the last Sigur Ros studio album and as discussed in the interviews leading up to the release of ‘Valtari’, this was a difficult album for the band citing a lack of inspiration and unable to transform the excerpts they had written into songs, instead enlisting a producer to assemble the songs.

This is unmistakably a Sigur Ros album and it should be said that Valtari’ is not a departure nor a reinvention from any previous Sigur Ros outings. With that said I’d like to point out that I don’t expect or even want Sigur Ros to change their sound or direction. However, as with every band and consequent album, you just hope that their latest album is their best. As for Sigur Ros specifically, I would hope that with every release they scale new heights in terms of emotion and sonic landscapes. Unfortunately, ‘Valtari’ does neither. While the album is no doubt solid Sigur Ros fare, I feel it is lacking in areas compared to their previous efforts.

2008’s brilliant ‘Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’ saw Sigur Ros perfectly combine their epic arrangements and sonic textures with hooks and “pop” sensibilities. This time around they’ve omitted the “pop” smarts and with the average song exceeding six minutes in length, ‘Valtari’ has more in common with 2002’s epic ‘(  )’. However where the aforementioned album played out as an emotional, sonic and textural journey, in contrast ‘Valtari’ feels at times long winded and directionless, missing the emotional depths, arrangements and dynamics of their previous two albums.

The final 3 songs ‘Varðeldur’, ‘Valtaria’ and ‘Fjögur píanó’ are instrumental tracks with “VarðeldurFjögur píanó” being especially gorgeous. With a similar tonal quality and feel as the song “Festival” from the Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’ album, ‘Varðeldur'” is an highly emotional track and a particular highlight on the album.

Update – September 2012: Although ‘Valtari’ initially felt less emotional and less enthralling than previous efforts, over the past couple of months it has developed into an extremely emotional and rewarding album. The key to ‘Valtari’ can be found in its nuances – what first may seem simply sprawling, when listened closer and/or over subsequent listens, later reveals to be profoundly moving. ‘Valtari’ has since become one our favourite Sigur Ros albums, which is no easy feat.