So what does it sound like? Difficult to say, but given a bit of poetic license, it could be described as a possible soundtrack for heavenly ascension. (Though not the gaudy heaven of massed choirs, pearly gates and puffy clouds, rather an alternate heaven of ruggedly beautiful, sub-arctic landscapes accented with black crushed velvet curtains and moody backlighting.) In less prosaic terms, the songs move at a majestically glacial pace, accented by gliding keyboard blips (in one memorable instance sounding not unlike sonar-depth readings) and massive rolls of guitar feedback. Melodies free-associate throughout, present but distinctly remote. Finally, there's singer Jon Birgisson's spine-tingling wail, a mixture of operatic theatrics and ghostly choirboy. The lyrics themselves are largely in Icelandic and a mixed-linguistic gibberish of Birgisson's own creation dubbed "Hopelandic." The results are a transcendent triumph of sound over sense.
Sigur Ros have created a bona fide musical experience, something to be slowly absorbed rather than dryly analyzed. This is progressive rock freed from the constraints of self-conscious pretension, conceptual skullduggery and boorish virtuosity. Despite their (relatively) tender years, the band demonstrates a remarkable ability to balance artistic reach and grasp. Unlike more celebrated, similarly artfully inclined bands, these Icelandic upstarts deliver a work of sustained depth and beauty, rather than the empty art-wank of a Kid A. This is music as creative risk-taking and spontaneous beauty, pretty rare commodities in our homogenized, pre-packaged, pop-life culture. This is music to welcome the new millennium.