Named for singer Jonsi’s youngest sister Sigurros – born just before the band started in 1994 – Iceland’s Sigur Rós were formed by guitarist and vocalist Jon Thor Birgisson (Jónsi), bassist Georg Holm and drummer Agust Gunnarsson, while all were teenagers. Their sprawling debut LP, Von (‘Hope’), was released in 1997 on the local label Bad Taste. In 1998 Kjartan Sveinsson joined the band on keyboards and the expanded band made the string-heavy Ágætis Byrjun (‘A Good Start’), which was released the following year to huge accolade in their homeland. Agust then departed and was quickly replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason.
Svefn-g-englar, their first release to be distributed outside Iceland, was hailed as NME‘s Single of the Week late in 1999, and so began a rapturous press reception in the UK, soon to be mirrored around the globe. In Q magazine Ágætis Byrjun was deemed “the last great record of the 20th century”. April 2000 dates in England with Godspeed You Black Emperor! were capped off by an appearance at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, and they also opened several dates of Radiohead’s European tour before year’s end. By the end of the year, it had won the US Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music; it was also declared Iceland’s Best Album of the Century.
( ), Sigur Rós’ third album, was released in 2002. The majority of the material was honed on the road prior to being recorded at Alafoss, the group’s studio, located outside Reykjavik. The album featured a raw, darker sound in comparison to its predecessors, and was also notoriously wordless and title-less throughout. Nevertheless it established itself as the band’s most successful record in America, a status it holds to this day. Three years later, they issued 2005’s Takk…, featuring tighter arrangements and brighter tones, best exemplified by the uplifting – and hugely requested by film directors – Hoppipolla.
In 2007 they released the documentary film Heima, which chronicled the band’s free tour of Iceland the previous year, accompanied by the acoustic/rarities double album package Hvarf/Heim. The following year they wrote, recorded and toured their fifth album, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, all within the calendar year of 2008. The final shows of the tour were recorded on both film and audio, and later released as the double live album and DVD Inni in 2011. They then went on “indefinite hiatus”. During this time, Jónsi launched a solo career, first collaborating with boyfriend Alex Somers (as Jónsi & Alex) on 2009’s Riceboy Sleeps, then releasing 2010’s Go under his own name.
The hiatus ended in 2012 with the quietly beautiful Valtari, which realised the band’s long-held ambitions to make a choral/ambient album. Recorded in several sessions over a period of years, the record saw the band re-embracing the stately pace and deferred gratification of their earlier work. The release was supported by the Valtari Film Experiment, wherein film directors interpreted the music instead of the band members doing interviews.
The band went back on the road in summer 2012 for the first time in four years. In November – at the biggest show ever by an Icelandic artist in the country’s capital Reykjavik – the band unveiled the first material written without departing member Kjartan Sveinsson, which would soon become the harder and more electronic seventh Sigur Rós album, Kveikur.
This summer, with no new album to promote but new songs to road-test, the band are once again challenging themselves and changing things up by shedding the comfort blanket of string and brass sections and additional musicians, and going back to being the core band that is Sigur Rós…as you’ve never seen them before
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