A Continental Shift
The first Sigur Rós album I heard was Ágætis byrjun, which means ‘an all right start’ in Icelandic. Sigur Rós are an Icelandic band that plays a genre of music that is classified (by those who love to classify such things) as post-rock, minimalist, ethereal music. I found Sigur Rós’s music mainly downtempo and soothing but also sad at times. I heard several of their albums, including the curiously named () (released in 2002), Takk (in 2005) and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2008). That last title translates into ‘with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly’. Nice, isn’t it? I don’t know why, but the band’s music sometimes reminded me of a huge, widescreen film where the camera is static and the visual is of a wide open landscape.
Sigur Rós’s frontman, Jónsi Birgisson has a falsetto voice, which is sometimes reminiscent of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke but not as grungy. In fact, Sigur Rós are not grungy at all. Their music has influences of modern classical music and the songs—with very, very minimalist lyrics—are all in Icelandic. That means if you, like me, don’t know that language, you can’t understand a thing. Which is why last week when I heard that Jónsi was readying a solo album called Go, I was excited.
I read that Jónsi’s delicious falsetto voice would be singing on Go in English, probably for the first time. If that was not enough, I also found on the Internet a single from the album (which comes out only in March), called Boy Lilikoi. Unlike many of Sigur Ros’s albums, Boy Lilikoi is an uptempo song—and if it’s a preview of Go, we can look forward to a great album. Here’s a sample of the lyrics: I want to be a lilikoi boy lilikoi/ You grind your claws, you howl growl/ Unafraid of all colour/ You run, you’re free, you climb and dress trees/ You reignite/ You growl, you howl, you show your teeth/ You bite, it’s alright.
From Iceland to California’s Long Beach, home of the indie-rockers, Cold War Kids. Formed in 2004, the quartet that makes up Cold War Kids has just one full-length album to its credit (Loyalty to Loyalty) but to really taste their music, you need to sample their EPs and singles, of which they have several. I first heard Hospital Beds, a four-song album with three of the songs recorded live, and got hooked. Their soulful lyrics and blues-influenced style of singing are catchy and great pick-me-ups. But that was a couple of years ago. I hadn’t heard anything much from the band for a while, till earlier this month when they released another EP, called Behave Yourself. The first track on the album is called Audience of One and it does the trick, ensuring that you fall for the band instantly. The EP itself has four songs and a total duration of just 14 minutes but, trust me, you’ll be inclined to put it on repeat and let it stay that way! I don’t know whether Cold War Kids are planning another full-length but as long as they keep rolling out EPs and singles, I’m happy.
The other American band that has been hogging my playlist for the past couple of weeks is, of course, Spoon. Based in Austin, Texas, Spoon has, at its core, singer and guitarist, Britt Daniel, and drummer, Jim Eno.
The rest of the band members keep getting changed and I’m not even sure what they’re current line-up is. If you like the punk sound of Sonic Youth (but with a bit less adventurousness—no screwdrivers rubbing against guitar frets and so on…), you’ll like Spoon. I first heard Spoon, in 2005, nearly nine years after their debut but both the albums I heard, Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga turned me into a fan. Pitchfork, the online music magazine (known for its esoteric views) gave Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga a generous 8.5 points and I thought that was greatly deserved.
So, when Spoon released Transference this month, I was looking forward to it. It didn’t disappoint. Transference has a rougher feel than the neat and shiny sound of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but that makes it all the more attractive, because it brings out the gritty, punk feel that Spoon was known for in its early years. After a few listens to Transference, I heard an interview with Daniel and Eno at NPR’s All Songs Considered, where they played some of the new songs and discussed the making of the record. It’s on the NPR website. Not to be missed.
THREE TO TANGO
- Street People: By Bobby Charles. This ethnic Cajun singer-songwriter from Louisiana died this month at 71. In 1976, he was invited to play with The Band on Martin Scorcese’s rockumentary, The Last Waltz.
- Roamin’ and Ramblin Blues’: By David “Honeyboy” Edwards, a veteran bluesman who was born in 1915 and still performs 60 or more times a year. Check him out.
- White Sky: By Vampire Weekend from their new album, Contra. Need I say more?