a happy album from sigur rós sounds like an unlikely concept. iceland’s greatest band specialise in music that is about as sunny as an arctic winter – vast tundras of sound, dark with melancholy and loneliness. so their fifth album comes as a surprise.
the brisk opener, gobbledigook, all jumped-up drums and manic vocals, sets the tone; its poppy energy crackles on through much of this collection. but then along comes a song that changes everything. from innocuous beginnings – jónsi birgisson’s fragile voice, a lone piano – ára bátur swells into an epic, swallowing a whole choir and the london sinfonietta.
it is so ambitious and successful a piece of music that it threatens to overwhelm the surrounding tracks, making what came before seem frivolous and what follows, almost inconsequential. no matter: for this one uplifting, goosebump-raising moment, it is worth buying the whole album.