...imagine Michael Nyman's soundtracks for Peter Greenaway minus the smugness and you...
Peter Marsh 2002
Originally released on Sigur Rós's own Krunk records, this soundtrack to one of Iceland's most successful films finally gets a UK release, courtesy of the superb Fat Cat label. The majority of the album is taken up with sometime Psychic TV/Current 93 member Hilmarsson's incidental music, with two songs by everyone's favourite Icelandic neo-progrockers rounding it off.
Hilmarsson's work is characterised by brooding, hovering strings (electronic and acoustic) worthy of Part, Taverner or even the less abrasive bits of Penderecki, coupled with a gift for simple, evocative melodic writing. Discreet, atmospheric electronics shadow violin, guitar and occasional percussion as the (mostly short) tracks work through a set of variations of the opening theme. "Over the Bend" is peculiarly beautiful; clouds of strings are gradually joined by glitchy, distressed electronics and treated tribal drums, like a cheese-free version of William Orbit's take on Samuel Barber. Equally lovely are "Colours" and "On the Road", both built around the same lush baroque chord sequence - imagine Michael Nyman's soundtracks for Peter Greenaway minus the smugness and you get the idea.
Maybe following the films plot (a study of one man's gradual descent into schizophrenia), things get a bit dissonant later on with "Relapse" and "Coma" with fractured electronics breaking the surface, forcing the strings into violent eddies of glissandi. It's this kind of stuff that works least well outside the context of the film, and the brevity of the tracks doesn't really allow you to engage with them before they're over.
The Sigur Rós songs are predictably epic slices of oceanic, yearning atmospherics; less expansive (and expensive) than those on last year's Ágætis Byrjun perhaps, but none the less powerful for that. Both tunes (previously available on the now deleted Ny Batterí EP) are rooted deeply in Icelandic tradition; "Bium Bium Bambaló" is derived from a popular lullaby, and "Dónafregnir Og Jardarfir" is based on the music which accompanies the daily Funeral Announcements and Deaths read out on national radio. As usual, it's not what they do rather than the way they do it that makes Sigur Ros such a seductive proposition; like the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine or even the Smiths, they've managed to create a musical vocabulary that's pretty much their own that sounds totally unforced. Recommended.