Sigur Ros – Valtari (XL) CD REVIEW

I’VE BEEN SITTING on this one for months (metaphorically, of course) and I just don’t seem to be able to make up my mind about it. That happens sometimes, even for the most decisive and resolute amongst us.
My first mistake was to start reading other people’s reviews of this album; something I seldom do until I’ve already made up my mind and written my own review. Valtari has not been well received by the critical community. The perception is that the Icelandic group’s sixth album, which took four years to make, is a still-birth that took way too long in gestation for little payoff.
Part of me agrees with that sentiment, but I disagree with the idea that the group are merely coasting, or that they have completely lost their way, because sonically, it’s much more interesting then their early, critically acclaimed works.
The essentials are still there, and few fans that enjoy and expect the near-silences and the ethereality and the moody build-ups and the brief eruptions of molten lava will be disappointed.
The problem for some is that it’s a much smoother ride than it used to be, because the recording is that much more detailed, and there’s less of that raw indie aesthetic than their early records. What they’ve done to try to keep it interesting is to add all sorts of effects that sonically “age” the music: crackle, piano that sounds like it’s played underwater, everything broken down and succumbing to creeping mould-spores.
They also go for the kind of transporting choral effects that probably make them seem like sell-outs to alt-rockers, who might consider it all just a touch too close to Enya, or something of that over-egged ilk.
If anything, though, Valtari seems a little under-egged this time. I like it, but I can see why hardcore followers think they’re just going through the motions. If anything, it just lacks the emotional gravitas that devoted followers expect, but it’s still a very fine exposition of a sound that belongs pretty much exclusively to Sigur Ros. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3.5/5
Music = 3.5/5

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