The name, I expect, is not familiar. The name of the band he fronts, Sigur Rós, might not even ring any bells. But such is my fondness for this Icelandic four-piece I can pinpoint the moment this love affair began. There I was, watching the final scene of Cameron Crowe’s film Vanilla Sky, moments before Tom Cruise plummets from a New York rooftop, when the opening bars of Untitled #4 kicked in, sending a shiver from head to toe. Having tracked it down, I listened to it every night as I drifted to sleep for weeks on end.
To those of you who know the music of Sigur Rós, this may seem an unusual choice for a feature which is focused on vocals. The majority of the band’s first three albums are sung in Jónsi’s fictitious “Hopelandic” language, and their most recent release, Takk… is unlikely to make much more sense unless you’re fluent in the band’s native tongue. But this is beside the point. Despite being a fairly standard four-piece line-up – guitar, keyboards, bass and drums – Sigur Rós sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before, mainly due to Jónsi’s use of his voice almost as another instrument, adding a whole new dimension to their dreamy sound.
Some listeners may find the lack of discernable lyrics makes the band somewhat inaccessible, but I disagree. The beauty of Sigur Rós is that the time is always right to listen. If the world holds nothing but doom and gloom or you’re stressing so hard that it hurts, Jónsi’s there to soothe (try Sæglópur). If you’re relaxing in the park staring skyward on a summer day, the clouds will drift by on Jonsi’s falsetto (check out Untitled #2). If you’re over the moon with joy, he’ll lift your mood even higher, Sé Lest and Olsen Olsen being fine examples.
I could go on. Even if you’re the sing-along type, feel free to give it a try. After all, nobody can accuse you of getting the lyrics wrong. In fact Jónsi has said of the band’s third, untitled album ( ) that listeners should create their own interpretations of his vocals and write them in the deliberately blank pages of the album sleeve.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Sigur Rós are all about Jonsi's voice. It’s the entire soundscape created by instruments and voice alike that has caused tears to well even in the eyes of the manliest of grown men, myself included. Sigur Rós aren’t exactly an easy band to describe with words. If I said their sound was a contemporary take on classical music, some of you would instantly turn up your noses.
All in all, Jónsi is a rare talent fronting an exceptional band, and one that I recommend to anyone who’s after something out of the ordinary to turn their ears to. Admittedly, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I know for sure that if Jónsi’s vocal cords ever got down on one knee and popped a certain question, there’d be no time for deliberation, just an instant “I will”.
words: Daniel Trotman