Album: Ágætis Byrjun
Artist: Sigur Rós
Reason Featured: #33 on The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll for 2000, #2 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000, #35 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000, Winner of the Iceland Music Award and the Shortlist Music Prize
My Favorite Songs: Svefn-g-englar, Starálfur, Flugufrelsarinn, Olsen Olsen
Their Grades: Rolling Stone (4/5), NME (7/10), Pitchfork (9.4/10), Robert Christgau (B)
My Grade: 95%
I owe my introduction to this band to some disgruntled YouTube commenter. Back in my freshman year of high school, In Rainbows by Radiohead came out and I’d just discovered the eminent Oxfordians a year prior. When they released the socially conscious video for “All I Need,” someone whose username is now lost to the annals of time brought up how it sounded like a Sigur Rós rip-off. While I still don’t know if I agree with him/her, I’m thankful it inspired me to listen to Agaetis Byrjun for the first time with my dad on the way back from a Radiohead concert in Chula Vista. Because of these Icelanders, the car ride home was as cathartic an experience as the concert.
After all these years, this is still my favorite of their records. New things surprise me with every listen. As I was revisiting it this time around, I marveled at how many elements are included which are so non-emblematic of what the band’s come to represent. There are harmonicas, jazzy Rhodes keyboards and plodding indie rock guitar riffs all in the midst of the oceanic post-rock symphonies they’re most known for.
The sonar beeps at the beginning of “Svefn-g-englar” are a mood setting mechanism for what comes as the songs start rolling in. Sounds this transcendental put you in mind immediately of either the unreachable depths of the ocean or the immeasurable heights of space. Where their later albums (Takk…, in particular) draw their inspiration from earthiness and nature, this one remains their most exploratory. From the strings on “Staralfur” to the repetitive guitar plucking of “Olsen Olsen,” you never know what’s going to come next but it always feels like a better home than wherever you’re from. A brief look at the album cover gives you all the adjectives you need to describe what’s here: angelic, womblike, prayerful, innocent, melancholy. People may argue about the existence of the supernatural till the end of time but heaven’s right here if you’re looking for it.