Back in June, flagship post-rock outfit Sigur Rós announced a mysterious one-off DJ set at Berlin's Boiler Room under the name Triple Nipple. The same iconic Icelandic band who cultivated a genre and maintained their career with sweeping, grandiose soundscapes was now billed to spin on the ones and twos. Unsurprisingly, this news ignited a media frenzy fueled by confusion, directional concern and good old-fashioned speculation.
Also, the uncertainty of whether Sigur Rós' dancehall intentions were pure or an agenda-driven vendetta further complicated the equation. So we waited with bated breath to see if this alleged "DJ set" would just troll the entire dance club institution — maybe they would just blast a resounding clusterfuck of distorted noises against a backdrop projection of El Topo in reverse.
In spite of peanut-gallery supposition, Sigur Rós made a move no one saw coming: Their DJ set was entirely, unpredictably normal. Fans were barraged with hits from the full electronic-pop gamut, ranging from trap to Baltimore club. DJ Assault's comically mindless "Raccoon" followed Angel Haze's "Werkin' Girls," and the evening closed with dubstep duo KillSonik's "Bloodlust."
But we can't say we weren't warned. The day prior to the performance, Sigur Rós posted a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer on their website poking fun both at themselves and public perception of the band.
"This is not going to be wall-to-wall, hair-tossing post-rock," the band cautioned. "There will be no glacial soundscapes of awesome dimensions. Neither warm bubble baths of yoga wind-down muzak (or any of the other enduring clichés about Sigur Rós)."
Sigur Rós further explained that the motive behind the surprise show was to share their off-the-clock tastes (which just so happen to be the exact brand of cuts fit for a Boiler Room DJ set) and prove they aren't a hyper-serious collective of grave-faced stoics. It was a chance for the group to drop both professional defenses and beats in one fell swoop.
However, more shocking than post-rockers raging to Angel Haze was what came from Kveikur, Sigur Rós' seventh studio album, released just weeks prior. The first recording since 1998 without longtime member Kjartan Sveinsson, and released barely a year after 2012's Valtari, Kveikur positioned the group far outside a niche two decades in the making.
While each previous record has its own distinctions — Von's disconcerting negative space, Takk ...'s horn-laden accessibility and of course ( ) being written in a fabricated language — they all orbit a shared credo of ethereal grandeur, an almost indiscernible signature that became Sigur Rós' calling card. Instead of falling in line with past endeavors, Kveikur gives the status quo a brisk slap in the face. Driving and oft-cynical themes backed by industrial instrumentation commandeer the effort, and track titles such as "Brimstone" and "Obsidian" highlight a dark, contextual tangibility rarely found throughout the discography.
Also, considering how both prior efforts, Inni and Valtari, garnered reviews that were weighed down with the caveat of self-cannibalization, Kveikur could not have been timelier. The album shines as a polarizing retort to the market and spotlights the versatility of Sigur Rós' artistic range — the cards-face-up writing style leaves little room for the open interpretation we had previously grown so accustomed to.
But the release represents far more than just a thematic shift to black on the band's mood ring; it is the sonic illustration of a second wind. A brooding album and a surprise discothèque set don't spend most evenings hand in hand, but their relative proximity and mutual intention highlight an important shift for a band edging away from self-established convention. It was a move many in their wheelhouse wouldn't dare take, and from our end, it was a risk that could have just as easily crashed and burned.
Sigur Rós has the audacity to deconstruct genre clichés they were instrumental in developing. They pull back the smothering veil of artistic identity to expose a group once again willing to nudge their boundaries and embrace the consequential vulnerability. Fortunately, the cards seem to have fallen in their favor, and the group remains at the forefront of a continuously amorphous genre.
Whether letting their hair down as the trap DJs du jour or pushing the envelope as post-rock's flagship barometer, 2013 has revitalized and reintroduced Sigur Rós as a force to be re-reckoned with.
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