Eight years after its debut album, Von, Sigur Rós is still an enigma. Not because it's from Iceland, or because it records in a converted swimming pool, or even because its major-label debut was sung in a made-up language and arrived sans song titles. Okay, maybe that last part was weird, but the real mystery lies in the quartet's ability to continue using the formula it quite literally perfected on Ágætis Byrjun to make albums that are just as intriguing, mysterious, and rewarding. Ágætis Byrjun was such an amazing feat, a true musical event filled with all the bells, whistles, and bizarre vocals anyone could have wished for, that it seemed unlikely Sigur Rós would ever come close to matching the magic without tossing out the playbook and starting over.
But two albums later, it's clear that the band which once boasted, "We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music," was adequately prepared to back up its braggadocio for years to come with the sound that made them underground heroes around the turn of the century.
There are three reasons none of this gets boring: 1) The music is grounded in the basic guitar-bass-drums format, but it's propelled by enchanting piano, devastating strings, compelling arrangements that complement the knee-buckling melodies, and Jón Thor Birgisson's otherworldly voice, which makes Björk sound about as weird as Kelly Clarkson. 2) The sound moves easily from dark to light and calm to frantic. 3) The group understands how and when to expand, contract, and manipulate its music, and it also knows when to leave something alone to grow in whichever direction it wants.
So, while it's easy to imagine most of the songs on Takk… (which means "thanks," as seen on the screen behind the band at the end of shows) sitting comfortably on previous albums, the ebb and flow would be damagingly disrupted if any of the 11 tracks were moved around, omitted, or added to. (Take note, iTunes shoppers.) Takk…—which finds Birgisson singing in Icelandic again, even though it's all Hopelandic to most of his fans—is such an epic work that it's difficult to pick out highlights, but two tracks that stand out are "Glósóli," with its beautifully creepy beginning and thundering ending, and "Sæglópur," which opens like a Heart ballad, then spends the next seven minutes scaling a gorgeous wall of music. If Sigur Rós is genuinely interested in changing music forever, perhaps it should consider producing a Top 40 diva in order to change the way everyone thinks about music. Either way, anyone looking for Phil Spector's replacements can find them sitting in a swimming pool in Iceland.