Sigur Rós : Hvarf/Heim/Heima

If you hadn’t ever heard of Sigur Rós, then this double EP release and music documentary DVD probably made you realize that this Icelandic band was quite possibly the greatest band in the world. If, like me, you already had that inclination, then these releases certainly did nothing to shake that belief. With four albums, nearly endless touring and worldwide success under their respective belts, Sigur Rós decided to go home. But they didn’t just go home and rest. No, they gave their countrymen in Iceland a grand tour of small venue shows and a couple of big ones in Reykjavik. These shows were captured in a concert film / documentary called Heima, which means `at home.’ A few acoustic tracks of old favorites were culled from the recordings and made into an EP called Heim, aka `home.’ That EP was released with a companion disc of unreleased material called Hvarf, `disappeared.’

“Salka,” originally recorded at the time of the release of their widely praised untitled album, a.k.a. ( ), is more of the band’s signature glorious post rock, and a worthy introduction to Hvarf. The truth is, all five of these songs could have made it onto any one of their four previous albums, but I guess lines have to be drawn somewhere, right? It’s probably easier for the band to make those decisions than the fans, at least outside of Iceland, who could never decipher their lyrics anyway. “Hljómalind” is the initial single from Hvarf and it is truly a standout track. Rather than being awash in the usual, albeit beauteous and hypnotic, wash of guitars and strings, it is rather rocking. It, in fact, used to be called “Rokklagiò” or “The Rock Song” back when it was conceived in 1999. “I Gær,” from 2000, shows a likeness to tracks from Radiohead’s Kid A, an album which coincidentally came out in the same year. There’s no doubt that these bands influenced each other equally. “Von” is a different version than the one on their debut album, giving this version a magnificent extra four minutes! “Hafsól” also appeared on Von originally, but this version is from their “Hoppipolla” single, thus being the only version with a true release. At over a half an hour, these five songs would be enough to sate most Sigur Rós fans, but as a bonus, they give us the real treat, Heim.

Heim consists of six well-loved tracks performed acoustically. “Untitled #3” or “Samskeyti” comes from their untitled album, known more for its minimalist beauty than their other records, shows up first, a gorgeous intro and a perfect choice for the acoustic treatment. The song is so cinematic, as are most of the band’s songs, that it was used in Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin. Another cinematic piece follows in possibly my favorite Sigur Rós track, “Starálfur.” It was featured expertly in The Girl in the Café, Vanilla Sky and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Amiina’s strings are heartbreaking and Jonsi’s voice even more filled with emotion than on the original. “Vaka,” the opening track from the untitled album, possibly changes the most without the aid of electronics, and is nearly the better for it. Hopelandic has never sounded more stunning. The title track from Agaetis Byrjun might be my favorite of the acoustic tracks, highlighting the brilliance of Jon’s voice and the band’s playing. After two from Agaetis Byrjun and ( ), they then give us one from Takk…, “Heysátan,” (which means `the haystack,’ not `hey satan!’) and one from Von, the title track that also appears on Hvarf, again in an extended version.

One doesn’t get the full experience of Sigur Rós until one sees them perform live. I got that lucky chance a few years back when I saw them play the Paramount Theater in Seattle. I was sick as a dog, and even with that to deal with, it was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life. The closest one can get without actually seeing them live is Heima, the incredible concert / documentary DVD that follows their Icelandic tour. One not only gets to see the band perform their tracks in various concert settings, but they also get to see the amazing small towns and landscapes of Iceland, one of the most beautiful countries, if not THE most beautiful, on Earth. Most of the above mentioned acoustic tracks are featured in the movie, but it is worth the price of the film alone for their Reykjavik closing performance of “Untitled #8” aka “Popplagio,” an eleven plus minute track that just rides completely off the rails and into the realm of orgasmic rock explosion in the last few minutes. I think the film version might even be longer than the original album version. I saw them perform this live at the aforementioned Seattle show and felt like I was the astronaut in 2001 going through that weird time/space warp. All this without the use of hallucinogens!

I recently played Heim over the speakers in the store that is my day job. I’ll be damned if at least three people a day didn’t stop me and ask, “who is this?” It was straight out of High Fidelity. So, yes, in a way, I preach the word of Sigur Rós, even if those words are a gibberish language that the singer made up. It’s probably perverse of you not to have every single one of Sigur Rós’ albums, even more perverse if you don’t have ANY of them, but definitely count Hvarf / Heim and Heima among those must have albums.

Similar Albums / Films:
Godspeed You Black Emperor- f#a#∞
Mogwai- Young Team
Radiohead- Meeting People Is Easy

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Sigur Rós - Hvarf - Heim

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