Set the controls for the heart of the sun: Sigur Rós had another baby and they named it ( ). It's just as excessive in length as its elder siblings, it's just as precious and almost as over-the-top sounding, and it's artfully packaged with next to no information provided -- no photo collage from the triumphant world tour, no acknowledgments of the supportive Reykjavik massive. No track titles are present, either -- the band has made them known, but obviously not through the traditional route. Whatever the issues with this record, musical or not, ( ) will only further repel the detractors. Despite the fact that it arrives three years after Ágaetis Byrjun's original release, there are only adjustments -- no significant developments -- in the group's sound. The relentlessly funereal tempos, the elegant arrangements, and the high-pitched warbling/cooing remain in abundance. The overall mood of the album is subdued in relation to its predecessor. This is particularly true for the second half of the album, which is cleaved by a half-minute gap of silence. The sudden stratospheric crescendos resorted to previously are smoothed out, riding subtle gradients that allow for somber, elongated passages of drones and minimal instrumental interplay. The orchestral nuances, contributed by the string quartet Amina, take on a more background role. The fact that the emotional extremes are few and far between makes the album difficult to wade through -- its impact would've been tripled with about half an hour lopped off, but where to begin? None of these eight songs deserve to be left on the cutting-room floor. So perhaps it's most effective when digested in halves. Are Sigur Rós pretentious somnambulists bearing gimmicks, or are they Nordic gods bearing musical bliss? Regardless of the side you're on, ( ) is further proof that this group does what it does very well.
by Andy Kellman