On previous album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, it looked like Sigur Ros were veering away from their dreamy long-song roots and more into territory of, if not pop, something as close as they could get without Not Being Sigur Ros. Singing in English! Songs under 4 minutes! What next?
Four years after the release of Með suð… now we know what’s next. The English singing, pounding drums, and songs that would be harder to fall asleep by seem to be reserved for lead singer Jonsi’s solo project, and Sigur Ros have sailed off the other end of their tracks: fully away from pop, percussion, and any semblance of radio-friendliness. Valtari means “steamroller” in Icelandic; the album, clocking in at just over an hour, features minimal percussion, minimalistic arrangements, and very little of the minor-key, sometimes terrifying beauty that appeared so often on their earlier albums. In its place is major-key melancholy and heavy use of a choir and strings; sometimes it works, such as on the slow-building “Varúð” and “Dauðalogn,”” but most of the time, it comes into danger of drifting aimlessly, such as on the titular track. If Valtari is a steamroller, it is a skeleton steamroller slowly rusting in an abandoned junkyard against a blanket of gray in the sky; it is a steamroller in the clouds watched by a girl floating on her back in a pool.
The final tracks of Sigur Ros albums have traditionally been quietly beautiful (Avalon, All Alright, Heysatan), and Valtari’s “Fjogur Piano” takes quiet and lovely one step. Entirely instrumental and full of quivering violins and sustained piano notes, it slips out of post-rock and almost into full-on ambient. I listened to it while writing this review, and found myself not writing for a few minutes, but simply staring out the window of the train. However, without the motion of the train and the visuals outside, I would have definitely found it stagnant. The essential spark behind other Sigur Ros albums — the slight nervousness of Von and ( ), the explosions of color on Með suð and Takk… — was unfortunately almost nonpresent.