it is, by now, a ritual. as the fifth sigur rós album prepares to flow igneously down from the north, the time dawns once more where critics brave ms word's insert symbol dictionary for some icelandic characters. in a pop culture so dominated by the english language that even france's eurovision entry sang in the tongue of the rosbif, the triennial or so efflorescence of a sigur rós record comes as an welcome distraction. the orthography, the geography, the sheer otherness of a band singing not only in icelandic, but often in a made-up tongue called hopelandic, is a cause for rejoicing. this latest title translates as with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly.
but after all the fun with runes, the joy peters out fast. it is easy to commend this major cult band, now in their 14th year, for their disregard for rock convention, their occasional deployment of poets at gigs, and their tour of their homeland's least likely venues, documented in their film, heima, released last november.
but really, sigur rós are probably the biggest lot of snake-oil salesmen the arty end of indie guitar rock has ever seen. they play at being otherworldly go-betweens, bringing melancholy shimmers back from the land of faerie with the aid of stringed things. really, they are one-trick geysers, whooshing elliptically to disguise a paucity of ideas. how many times can one band climb ethereally to a crescendo?
with a buzz... breaks with sigur rós convention by including one song in english, 'all alright'. it reveals singer jonsi birgisson to be as milky in english as he is in other tongues. to compensate for two long epics, 'ara batur' and 'festival', sigur rós have included a few uncharacteristically snappy songs.
enticingly, there is an outbreak of rhythm early in the album, on the vigorous 'gobbledygook' and its follow-up, 'inni mér syngur vitleysingur'. it is as though björk came round and beat them up with spoons. soon, though, the beats drop out, and the sisyphean task of crescendo-construction begins again. and it goes on, endlessly.