The enigmatically-titled début album from Sigur Rós lead singer Jónsi (real name Jón Þór Birgisson), Go is one of the most difficult records of the last year to completely unpack. Containing both quasi-orchestral movements that would feel at home on on any Rós record as well as some poppier endeavours, this nine-track salvo tries to cover a pretty vast range of ideas, sounds and musical styles. In doing so, however, it also manages to be probably the best album of the year thus far.
Sigur Rós, probably most well-known for the epic and excellent Hoppípolla (tragically manhandled in a shitty remix which weaselled into the UK pop charts), are a unique band to say the very least, and Jónsi could be described as their frontman; in reality, however, he’s more like a conductor.
The music that the Icelandic four-piece have made over the space of their five studio albums is a combination of post-rock, ambience and classical styles which operates in a sphere as comparable to Elgar as to Explosions in the Sky.
So, how in the world can a single member of a group so defined by music of epic proportions strike out alone with any success? One would assume it to be like a violinist without an orchestra, a self-indulgent mess of ideas ‘too big’ for his band to handle.
Yet nothing could really be further from the truth when dissecting Jónsi’s début.
What first strikes you when listening to Go is the heightened importance of lyricism; Sigur Rós often operate without words, and when vocals are used, it’s usually more as an additional melody than a vocal expression and/or in the group’s distinctive ‘Hopelandic’ tongue, a nonsense language of the group’s own devising. On this record, though, English is the predominant language, and we can pluck out phrases here and there which all can appreciate, largely because of their poignant simplicity: ‘I see the walls and see them fall/You break through them all’ (‘Around Us’).
Despite the increased importance of lyrics on this solo project, it’s still the melodies which will inspire, and Birgisson’s talent for gradually building sounds is especially evident on the ebullient opener ‘Go Do’ and the more melancholic ‘Kolnidur’. Equally (perhaps even eclipsing) even some of Sigur Rós’ best songs, the grand scale of Jónsi’s efforts is astounding, and the composition of each track has an almost lattice-like intricacy, minor chords dappled underneath soaring melodies and layered vocals reverberating throughout. The music sounds like it was recorded live in some isolated Icelandic idyll; the progressions are subtle and organic, gradually drawing you into this fantastical universe of Jónsi’s own creation.
Listening to a track or two off of Go is, quite frankly, a waste of time. It’s not a singles album. It’s a composition of classical proportions, and one which absolutely merits the time it takes to have a full listen through. Although a couple of tracks (‘Around Us’, ‘Sinking Friendships’) deserve repeated listens, the entire record is tremendous: it ebbs and flows between tracks like a musical tide, Birgisson’s delicate falsettos calling out through subtle intros and outros whilst the core of the tracks can punch you in the gut (‘Animal Arithmetic’) or caress your cares away (‘Grow Till Tall’).
Go is an absolutely incredible album, from the driving beat of ‘Go Do’ to the warm glow of ‘Hengilás’, and no record this year will have a greater sense of melodic continuity, or a better sense of what it takes to make gorgeous, spellbinding music. Essential.
Best tracks: Just listen to the whole thing.
If you like this, you’ll also like: Michigan, the Great Lake State – Sufjan Stevens, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven – Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place – Explosions in the Sky.