After floating in the same cirrus clouds for a decade, it would seem that the time has come for a change. Not to say that the lulling orchestral swells or Jon Birgisson's schoolboy falsetto have lost any of their magic over time; it's just that after releasing 40-some similar-sounding songs with undecipherable lyrics, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate one from the next. However, Hvarf/Heim isn't the album to mark a musical departure for Sigur Rós. The bandmembers show no real sign of abandoning their style, so it seems understandable that they would want to show fans another side of themselves. Disc one, Hvarf, is a five-track collection of rarities from their vaults. The handful of tracks doesn't quite make for a fulfilling full-length, but with two of the songs almost hitting the ten-minute mark, the disc's entirety feels much longer than a mere EP. Consistently sprawling and lunar, the songs would feel right at home on Takk... or ( ). The standout track, "Hljómalind," is one of the more concise and traditional songs crafted over their journey, with the traditional instrumentation of reversed chimes and bowed guitar delays sawing textures into the fabric of the song, just before giving way to a powerful rock chorus from the mouth of a gently meowing alien. The traditional slow build is ignored for dynamics, and an unusually tangible hook hits like an old-fashioned punch to the face. The second disc, Heim, is comprised of six acoustically performed versions of favorites from their back catalog. Surprisingly, these songs don't sound remarkably different from the originals. Even without an electric guitar droning, they aren't sparse or minimal in the least, due to an additional string quartet, Amiina, filling in the gaps to create a lush soundscape. The reworkings are subtle, but the versions of "Samskeyti" and "Starálfur" remain beautiful and are slightly warmer and even more fragile than the originals. Completists will find this double-disc supplement of material appealing, and new fans wanting to get a quick feel for the band will probably enjoy it too, but the true excitement revolving around this promises to be in the accompanying release of the Heima DVD, a documentary -- with gorgeous cinematography -- that follows Sigur Rós' 2006 tour of their homeland and features music from these discs, which is perfectly fitting for a slow-motion shot of an iceberg melting in a spring sunrise.
AllMusic Review by Jason Lymangrover
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2