Social media posts on February 14th – Valentine’s Day – sent Sigur Rós fans into a frenzy of reignited passion. Not only was there advance news of the band’s first studio album since 2013 – due in the autumn of 2022 – but the return of their keyboard player Kjartan Sveinsson after an absence of ten years, to rejoin lead singer/guitarist Jónsi and bassist Georg Holm. News was subsequently confirmed of the band’s first live dates in five years, starting on April 30th in Mexico and winding its way across the US and Canada to end in New York on June 18th.
With Kjartan back in the band, says Jónsi, “It’s really normal. It doesn’t feel that long apart at all.”
“It’s bit like nothing happened,” ventures Kjartan. “Maybe because we had worked a lot together before. There is a saying in Icelandic, and in English too, that we have hit the ground running.”
Since breaking internationally in 1999 with their uniquely brilliant second album Ágætis byrjun, which won the inaugural US Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music, Sigur Rós have been a global sensation, from their six number one albums in Iceland to platinum-selling albums and sell-our tours in all directions. It’s hard to think of another band that so creatively fuses the apparent opposing forces of majesty and intimacy, drawing on ambient and neo-classical strains as much as rock and shoegaze, spearheaded by Jónsi’s haunting falsetto and reverberating guitar (often played with a cello bow). If you believe in psycho-geography, it makes sense that the compact island that Sigur Rós call home is a wild landscape of volcanic rock, fire and ice, with mountains, glaciers and sea in every direction.
If the band’s music taps the power within, their creative choices look outward, and upward, not just touring overseas but releasing their own film documentaries, including Route One, filmed on Iceland’s ring road in permanent daylight on the longest day of the year and broadcast live on national TV and YouTube, to a soundtrack created by generative music software. Hollywood, independent film and TV have used their music extensively including the BBC natural history series Planet Earth. And they have created special recordings for The Simpsons and Game Of Thrones (even appearing on screen for the latter) in 2013. They’ve collaborated with Icelandic folk heroes on the stirring orchestrated/choral opera Odin’s Raven Magic (a live version was finally released in 2020 having last been performed in 2004), and with Radiohead for music for Merce Cunningham’s dance piece Split Sides.
The beginning of a thrilling new chapter in Sigur Rós’ life follows the departure of drummer Orri Páll Dýrason (in 2018), Jónsi moving to Los Angeles, to continue work on his second solo album (Shiver was released in 2020, and its surprise sequel Obsidian in 2021 in conjunction with a new art installation in New York) whilst expanding his ambient project Liminal, releasing mixtapes and staging live ‘soundbaths’. Sigur Rós, not for the first time, went into hibernation.
“It was normal for us to take a break, for two or three years,” explains Georg. “I guess it’s abnormal it being nine years between albums, but things happened. Maybe we would have been further into this project if it wasn’t for Covid, you never know.”
Since leaving Sigur Rós’, Kjartan had written film soundtracks and collaborated with other artists whilst running the Sundlaugin studio outside of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik (where the band are recording the new album). But he and Jónsi also decided to collaborate again, free of expectations or deadlines, simply to enjoy the creative process again after all the stress. But when Georg heard they had created, “I thought, I can be part of that,” he says.
Jónsi and Kjartan agreed. “Initially, it was nothing to do with Sigur Rós, but with time, it became the obvious way forward,” says Kjartan. “Georg brings so much energy.”
As for Kjartan, “It’s great to have him back,” says Jónsi. “He’s such a genius melody-maker.”
The template for the new album was, “Wouldn’t it be nice to do something beautiful?” Kjartan recalls. They’re deploying an orchestra for the first time on record since their fifth album, 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, captured during recording sessions at London’s legendary Abbey Road studios. Also present will be the band’ signature sound: “Bold guitar and piano and Georg’s fat bass sounds,” says Kjartan. “Maybe not very rhythmically driven, but more atmospheric. Will there be drums? Possibly not. But everything seems quite open-ended. For example, we recorded a lot of electronics today. In the end, it might be completely different. That’s very Sigur Rós.”
The band have not yet decided whether to bring string or brass players on tour with them, but the set list will include new songs aired for the first time and older songs from across their distinguished discography. But first there is an album to finish before tour rehearsals begin.
“I’m sure we will pull through,” says Georg, “even if we’re under pressure right now. But it’s fun at the same time. I’m not too worried about the tour either. Five minutes before we walk on stage for the first show, I know it will be, ‘Let’s go!’”