His voice remains one of modern music’s most readily identifiable instruments.
Si Hawkins 2010-03-25
Long-term fans of Sigur Rós could be forgiven for feeling a little nervous about Jónsi Birgisson’s new project. The quartet he usually fronts possess many admirable qualities, but their international success owes much to a mystique greatly enhanced by lyrics that are gobbledegook to most. Singing in Icelandic has the useful effect of making you sound like the house band from a science fiction film, an in-built benefit Birgisson has decided to eschew with his first solo record, which is sung mostly in English. If the Sigur Rós spell is ever to be broken, this might be the moment.
Thankfully the otherworldly force is strong in this one. Jónsi’s vocal style is so strikingly distinctive that most casual listeners will be too distracted to notice the language difference, while his music remains reassuringly offbeat. Ostensibly a solo record, Go is also heavily indebted to Nico Muhly, the gifted young American composer with strong Icelandic links and a passion for fusing tuneful pop with the avant-garde: Grizzly Bear’s 2009 opus Veckatimest made good use of his arrangements, although things get slightly out of hand on Birgisson’s record. Several perfectly agreeable songs are unexpectedly hijacked by a cacophonous onslaught of instruments, with Finnish percussionist Samuli Kosminen setting the furious pace. It’s as if Muhly hired an enormous orchestra, but only for a few hours, and so made sure he got his money’s worth.
Birgisson was planning an acoustic record originally, and the slower works here come as a relief after lengthy periods of dizzyingly intense orchestration. Too shrill for some, his voice remains one of modern music’s most readily identifiable instruments, capable of euphoric peaks and hugely affecting introspective moments. Striking out alone can be nerve-racking for even the most talented of artists though, particularly when your lyrics will suddenly be exposed to wider scrutiny too, so you can understand the compulsion to submerge them under a wealth of drums and strings.
In fact his words often intrigue. Tornado, for example, sounds like a tear-jerkingly tender attempt at comforting a loved-one, initially. “You’ll learn to know,” opines the Icelander, before insisting that “You grow like tornado” and “You kill from the inside.”
Fear not: Jónsi’s air of mystery remains intact.