A fair criticism I’ve heard of Sigur Rós is that their music is a bit melodramatic, that the long, slow builds to beautiful crescendos are a little bit on the overwrought side. I like the bulk of Sigur Rós’s output and I still think some of their stuff is bogged down by its own sense of import (but when they balance their pomp and their pretension, they make achingly beautiful music). Jónsi Birgisson, the band’s lead singer, released a less dramatic record last year under the name Riceboy Sleeps (to say the least, it was a down-tempo record that, as far as I know, only I liked). This year, he’s replaced the melodramatic flair but added a healthy dose of sugary pop energy to the proceedings for a solo debut simply called Go. This album conjures up images of Gir from Invader Zim devouring a planet’s worth of Skittles and then running around the house on a sugar high, shitting rainbows all over the furniture (especially “Animal Arithmetic”). This should probably not be surprising, coming from a dude who made up a language called “Hopelandic” in which to sing the bulk of his songs.
The music on Go, which is totally worthy of a Legend of Zelda video game, is largely composed and arranged by Nico Muhly – also known as the dude who arranged the National’s “You’re So Far Around the Bend” for the Dark Was the Night compilation. I’d like to go on record right now as saying that I’d donate money to fund an album-length collaboration between Nico Muhly and Sigur Rós. On Go, Jónsi runs crazy happy rings around Muhly’s music, singing mostly in English, which is not always (or really ever) a good idea for him.
There are two things that I think turn people off about Sigur Rós’s music more than anything: the fact that nobody knows what the fuck Jónsi is singing about and the aforementioned melodramatic tendency. But Go doesn’t benefit from being mostly in English – when you only paid attention to the feeling of the words in Jónsi’s made-up language, you could have a fairly pleasant time with Sigur Rós. When Jónsi sings, “We should always know/ that we can do anything,” I feel like I’m listening to the denouement of a fucking Care Bears movie. And the more upbeat, “poppy” (for want of a better word) songs on Go seem to really suffer from a lack of gravitas. Seems counterintuitive, I know, but Go’s best moments are the ones that sound the most like Jónsi’s day job.
It’s weird to dislike something from a guy who seems to sincerely be a little happiness fairy, floating around the world, showering us in shimmery songs of hope and longing, but at the end of the day, the music on Go doesn’t really stick with me at all. It’s the aural equivalent of sucking down the world’s longest Pixy Stix (Pixy Stick? I’ve never seen it in the singular before) on an empty stomach; sounds like an interesting idea at first but you’re only gonna end up vomiting neon blue crud in the end. There are moments of real beauty within several of the songs here, but you’re rushed through them to get on to the next idea; maybe if the Riceboy Sleeps record tried your patience, Go will give you a big ol’ boner of instant gratification. But as the only guy on Earth who liked that album (or listened to it more than once), I find myself wanting to tell Go to slow down just a second and catch its breath. I don’t think I’m being curmudgeonly here, either. Sigur Rós and Riceboy Sleeps have trained me to like slow-moving majesty and the lilting, chimey tracks that make up the bulk of Go aren’t triggering my Pavlovian response.
For some reason, talking about Jónsi and Sigur Rós has led me to think of video games. So let me continue the trend by saying that, in a lot of ways, Sigur Rós is the stoic, patient little boy from Limbo and Go is Sonic the Hedgehog, strung out on gold rings and running around in two and a half dimensions in search of his next fix. It’s more than okay to like both, but there’s something striking to me about how patient the boy in Limbo has to be – haste literally makes waste in that game, usually in the form of the boy’s dead ass on a pile of spikes. The game moves slow but never bores you because it is so artfully presented, like a good Sigur Rós album. Like Sonic the Hedgehog, Go is fun in places, but you can only run around like that for so long before you get bored.
There was something about Sigur Rós, when I first heard them, that prevented me from dismissing them as new-agey bullshit (and I wanted to, believe me. You give me some dudes from Iceland who sing in a fake language and try to get all epic up in my grill and I should be able to give you a thousand words on why that’s exactly the kind of pretentious bullshit that ought to be outlawed in a civil society). They’re not the kind of music I normally enjoy, but I own most of their albums and really love them. Whatever intangible quality that exists in Sigur Rós albums is missing for me on Jónsi’s Go, but I still can’t dismiss it as new-age bullshit. It’s just an album for which I have no use.