Sigur Rós (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈsɪːɣ̞ʏr ˌroːus] ( listen)) is an Icelandic avant-rockband from Reykjavík, who have been active since 1994. Known for their ethereal sound, frontman Jónsi‘s falsetto vocals, and the use of bowed guitar, the band’s music incorporates classical and minimal aesthetic elements. The band is named after Jónsi’s sister Sigurrós Elín.[10
1997–1998: Von and Von brigði
Jón Þór „Jónsi” Birgisson (guitar and vocals), Georg Hólm (bass) and Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson (drums) formed the group in Reykjavíkin January 1994. The band’s name is Icelandic wordplay: while the individual words Sigur and Rós mean, respectively, Victory and Rose, „Victory Rose” wouldn’t be grammatically correct; the name is actually borrowed from Jónsi’s younger sister Sigurrós, who was born a few days before the band was formed, and then split into two words. They soon won a record deal with the local Sugarcubes-owned record label Bad Taste, because they thought the falsetto vocals were very cute and would appeal to teenage girls. In 1997, they released Von (pronounced [vɔːn], meaning „hope”) and in 1998 a remix collection named Von brigði ([vɔːn ˈprɪɣðɪ]). This name is also Icelandic wordplay: Vonbrigði means „disappointment”, but Von brigði means „variations on Von„. The band was joined by Kjartan Sveinsson on keyboards in 1998. He is the only member of Sigur Rós with musical training, and has contributed most of the orchestral and string arrangements for their later work.
1999–2001: Ágætis byrjun
International acclaim came with 1999’s Ágætis byrjun ([ˈau̯cai̯tɪs ˈpɪrjʏn] „A Good Beginning”). The album’s reputation spread by word of mouth over the following two years. Soon critics worldwide hailed it as one of the great albums of all time, and the band was playing support to established acts such as Radiohead. Three songs, „Ágætis byrjun”, „Svefn-g-englar„, and a live take of the then-unreleased „Njósnavélin” (later ‘unnamed’ „Untitled #4”) appeared in the Cameron Crowe film Vanilla Sky. The former two also subsequently appeared in the US version of the television series Queer as Folk. Their music has also appeared in the TV series 24with „Ný batterí”, and CSI with „Svefn-g-englar”. In 2004, Wes Anderson used „Starálfur” in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou as did the Emmy-winning 2005 TV film The Girl in the Café. In Enki Bilal‘s Immortel (Ad Vitam) the song „Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm)” is used. The song „Svefn-g-englar” was also used on V on 24 November 2009, and features prominently in Café de Florereleased in 2011. The song „Andvari” was also used in the 2010 film Remember Me.[which?]
In 2001, Sigur Rós christened their newly completed studio by recording an EP called Rímur with an Icelandic fisherman named Steindór Andersen. The EP contains six songs, all of which feature Steindór Andersen reciting traditional Icelandic rímur poetry. Sigur Rós accompany him on three songs. Two songs feature Steindór alone. The last song on the EP, „Lækurinn”, is a duet with Sigurður Sigurðarson. A thousand copies of the EP were printed and sold during the spring tour of 2001. The EP was sold in a blank-white-paper case.
Drummer Ágúst left the band after the recording of Ágætis byrjun and was replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason. In 2002, their highly anticipated follow-up album ( ) was released. Upon release all tracks on the album were untitled, though the band later published song names on their website. All of the lyrics on ( ) are sung in Vonlenska, also known as Hopelandic, a constructed language without semantic meaning, technically glossolalia, which resembles the phonology of the Icelandic language. It has also been said that the listener is supposed to interpret their own meanings of the lyrics which can then be written in the blank pages in the album booklet.
Sigur Rós collaborated with Radiohead in October 2003 to compose music for Merce Cunningham‘s dance piece Split Sides; Sigur Rós’s three tracks were released on the March 2004 EP Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do. Radiohead’s contribution was not commercially released. Sigur Rós’ 1997 debut album Von found a US and UK release in October 2004.
„Untitled 3” (a.k.a. Samskeyti) from the album is used on the video 6AM by film maker Carmen Vidal, winner of the 2006 Student Academy Award. „Untitled 3” is also used at the end credits of the indie drama movie, Mysterious Skin. It can also be heard in Skins and CSI: Miami and the British TV Documentary Protecting Our Children as well as during a section of the London 2012 summer Olympics on the BBC. „Untitled 4” from the album (also called „Njósnavélin”) featured in the final scene of Vanilla Sky, and director Cameron Crowe commented, „We struggled to find an appropriate track to end the film with and then I went to see Sigur Rós perform in Los Angeles and they played this song, „Njósnavélin”, that was just perfect. I had to have it.”
Their fourth album, Takk… ([ˈtʰaʰk]; „Thanks…”) employs the distinctive sound of their second album in a more rock oriented structure with greater use of the guitar, and was released in September 2005. „Hoppípolla” ([ˈhɔʰpiˌpʰɔtl̥a] „Hopping into puddles”), the second official single from Takk…, was released in November alongside a new studio remake of „Hafsól” ([ˈhafsoʊ̯l] „Ocean Sun”), a song that was previously released on the band’s 1997 debut, Von. „Hoppípolla” was used in the trailers for the BBC’s natural history series Planet Earth in 2006, as well as the closing credits for the 2006 FA Cup final, ITV‘s coverage of the 2006 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, advertisements for the BBC’s coverage of England games during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, on television advertisements for RTÉ‘s Gaelic games coverage in Ireland, and on an advertisement for Oxfam. It was also used in the final scene of the movie Penelope, for the trailer of the film Children of Men and for the trailer of the film Slumdog Millionaire. Following this, demand for the single grew. It was made more widely available by EMI in consequence. This song is also used in the trailer for the Disney movie Earth as well as in the 2011 film We Bought a Zoo.
An extended Sæglópur EP ([ˈsaɪ̯ˌkloʊ̯pʏr]) was released in July 2006 in most parts of the world and in August in the United States. Its original release was scheduled in May, but because of the sudden demand of „Hoppípolla” it was pushed back from that date. Sigur Rós recorded three new songs to appear on the EP („Refur”, „Ó friður”, and „Kafari”). In July 2006, Sigur Rós finished a major world tour with stops in Europe, the United States (where they played a headline show at the Hollywood Bowl), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kongand Japan. Upon return to their homeland, Sigur Rós provided a series of free surprise outdoor concerts throughout Iceland in July and August, playing in various venues such as abandoned bunkers and community coffee shops, all of which were included in the 2007 documentary film Heima. They also performed twice in the United States in February.
2007: Heima and Hvarf/Heim
In August 2007, a limited DVD+CD edition of the 2002 soundtrack to the documentary Hlemmur was released. Hvarf/Heim ([ˈkʰvarf], [ˈhɛɪ̯m]) was released on 5 November (6 November in the U.S.), a double compilation album containing studio versions of previously unreleased songs — „Salka” [ˈsalka], „Hljómalind” [ˈ l̥joʊ̯maˌlɪnt] (formerly known as „Rokklagið”), „Í Gær” [i ˈcaɪ̯r] and „Von” on Hvarf, and acoustic studio versions of the songs: „Samskeyti” ([ˈsamˌscɛɪ̯tɪ]), „Starálfur” [ˈstarˌaʊ̯lvʏr], „Vaka” [ˈvaːka], „Ágætis Byrjun”, „Heysátan” [ˈhɛɪ̯saʊ̯tan] and „Von”, on Heim. On the same day (20 November in the U.S.) Heima, a live DVD of the previous summer’s Iceland tour, was released. Just prior to the release of Hvarf/Heim, on 29 October, a single named „Hljómalind” was released.[clarification needed]
The 2007 feature-length documentary from Sigur Rós’s summer tour in Iceland, which occurred in 2006, attempts to shed light on the band’s homeland. Therefore, the film is called “Heima”, which means “at home”. In the movie, the band members express their interpretation of „Iceland”. The film revolves around three main elements; the band playing live, the Icelandic nature shaping their music, along with interviews, where they tell the viewers what it was like play at home in addition to sharing their overall experience of the tour.
To promote their film Heima, the band scheduled a series of premiere screenings throughout the world, featuring a short acoustic set before the film and a question-and-answer session afterwards.
2008: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
The band’s fifth regular studio album (pronounced [mɛð sʏð i ˈeiːrʏm vɪð ˈspɪːlʏm ˈɛntaløyst], „with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly”), recorded with producer Flood in downtown Reykjavík, was released in June 2008 to generally positive reviews. Stylistically different from their earlier releases, it featured fewer strings and more guitar, and had more pop-oriented songs, making it „the group’s most accessible effort” while maintaining the „majestic beauty that defines the band’s music.” The final track „All Alright” is the band’s first to be sung in English, though all the other lyrics are in Icelandic.
The band were announced as a headlining act for the 2008 Splendour in the Grass Festival in Byron Bay, Australia, Latitude Festival 2008, and the 2008 La Route du Rock Festival in St Malo, France. In addition, the band performed a late-night set at the 2008 BonnarooMusic Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, where they blew a speaker at the end of their second song. Jónsi Birgisson commented, „The piano is exploding, I think,” one of the few things spoken in English.
In autumn 2008 Sigur Rós embarked on a world tour supporting their newly released album. The band played as a four-piece without Amiina and the brass band, the first time the band had played as a four-piece in seven years. The tour started on 17 September 2008 in the United States, at the United Palace Theater in New York City, and finished with a concert in Reykjavík at Laugardalshöll on 23 November 2008. The majority of the tour was European with the exception of concerts in the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan.
The track „Festival” from the album features in the score of the 2010 film 127 Hours, providing the euphoric backing to the climax of the movie. It is also featured at the end of HBO mini-series „24/7 – Flyers-Rangers”.
The track „Untitled #7 (Dauðalagið)” was also featured in the launch trailer for Dead Space (2008 video game).
2009–2012: Hiatus, Inni, Valtari
On 28 May 2009, Sigur Rós announced that they had almost completed recording their latest album. The band said the album was taking form as a slower and more ambient record than both Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust and Takk…. The music was also described as melodic but much less noisy and more „out there” than previous albums. The unnamed album was expected to be released sometime in 2010. However, the band later revealed that the recordings had been scrapped. In a 2010 interview, Jónsiconfirmed „We haven’t got another album ready”, he said. „It was just a rumour. We started to record something, but then we chucked it all away. So I think we are going to have to start it all again”. Without further word on the new album, Sigur Rós were rumoured to be on indefinite hiatus as of January 2010. However, before taking the stage at Coachella in April 2010, Jónsi commented that Sigur Rós would be getting back to work that year: „I’m gonna record some other stuff with Sigur Rós when I’m home”, between a series of shows during his solo tour in summer 2010. On 1 February 2011, Jónsi’s official website announced that he would be back in the studio with the band over the spring.
On 11 August 2011 Sigur Rós’s official website unveiled a trailer for a project called Inní, a DVD and double CD of the band’s live performances in London, directed by Vincent Morisset. It was screened at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, and saw official release in November 2011. On 16 September 2011, the Inni album and live video became available to pre-order from the band’s site in a variety of formats. Additionally, the band made the video for the song „Festival” available to watch online, as well as offering a free download of the audio from a live performance of the song.
On 3 November 2011, following the UK premiere of Inni at the British Film Institute in London, the band members participated in a Q&A session during which Georg promised that 2012 would be a „very busy” year for Sigur Rós. The band hinted at a new album and tour in the second half of 2012. The Q&A session was curtailed when a stage light began to emit smoke and the room was evacuated.
„The band’s next album is scheduled for release in the spring. Based on excerpts presented by Mr. Sveinsson, the new music promises to be as exceptional as the best of the band’s catalog. Mr. Hólm called it „introverted”, while Mr. Birgisson said it was „floaty and minimal”. „An ambient album” was how Mr. Dýrason described it, with „a slow takeoff toward something”. For a visitor who heard a preliminary recording in which Mr. Birgisson’s falsetto was surrounded by rich choral voices and what sounded like a pipe organ, the music was thrilling”.
Beginning in February 2012, Sigur Rós announced their live return with festival appearances at Bestival in England, Summer Sonic Festival in Japan, and other shows in Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Poland, and Italy. The band was also added to Montréal‘s Osheaga 2012 lineup, and the 2012 Lollapalooza lineup.
Additionally, after a four-year hiatus, an interview with the band in the March 2012 issue of Q magazine confirmed the completion of a new album, titled Valtari, scheduling its release on 28 May 2012. On 26 March 2012, the band released the first official single from the album, „Ekki múkk.” On 14 April 2012, a lower quality version of the complete album leaked out on the internet. On 10 May 2012, Sigur Rós’s new track „Dauðalogn” was premiered on „The Departed„, the season 3 finale of The Vampire Diaries.
On 2 November 2012, Georg Hólm confirmed that the band had already started work on a new album, due to be released some time in 2013. He described it as a dramatic change of direction, „an anti-Valtari”. The band performed a new song, entitled „Brennisteinn” (‘brimstone’), in Reykjavik on 4 November at the Iceland Airwaves 2012 festival, to favourable reception. On 12 November 2012, the band announced a new North American tour, to take place in March and April 2013. The band also announced that every ticket purchased will include a new digital copy of a three-track EP, containing new and unreleased music, made available to ticket holders on 22 March 2013.
2013–present: Three-piece band, Kveikur and upcoming new album
On 24 January 2013, the band held a Q&A session via the social news website Reddit. Through this, the band announced the departure of Kjartan Sveinsson, saying „Yes[,] he has left the band. He said he spent half his life in the band and it was time to do something different.” Kjartan’s departure transformed the band into a „three piece band” (as referenced by the band itself.)
In spite of Kjartan’s departure, the band announced their seventh studio album, entitled Kveikur, on 22 March. On the same day, they also released the album’s first single: „Brennisteinn”. The album itself was finally released on 14 June (releasing two days earlier in Japan, and four days later in the US) and marked both a musical and thematical change for the band, providing a more aggressive sound, compared to their previous albums. The album was well received by critics, scoring 80 on metacritic, with several reviewers praising for the band’s new musical approach, as well as a lack of commercialism. The release was marked, by the band, with a new tour, as well as an interactive musical experience, where fans could live stream a concert, taking control of the camera. The band later performed at the iTunes Festival, on 2 September 2013, where selected portions of their concert were later released on 21 October.
The band appeared in the HBO TV series Game of Thrones episode „The Lion and the Rose” on 13 April 2014. They also covered the song „The Rains of Castamere„, which was originally recorded by The National for the earlier episode „Blackwater„.
Georg Holm and Orri Páll Dýrason worked with Holm’s brother Kjartan Holm and the composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson on the soundtrack to The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses and Carnivals. This was released as an album, Circe – Music Composed for The Show of Shows, on the Krunk label in the UK on 28 August 2015.
A reissue of the band’s second album, Ágætis byrjun, was announced by the band in early 2015. It was announced to feature previously unheard studio and live recordings as well as photographic and documentary material from their personal archives. The band promised expanded reissues of Von and ( ), but has not done so.
On 31 January 2017 it was announced that the band would be touring later in 2017, playing concerts in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Croatia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
On 8 May 2018, the band released a new multimedia project called Liminal, which they described as an „endless mixtape” of ambient music which will be continuously added to over time. In addition, Jónsi, Somers, and frequent collaborator Paul Corley announced a series of „live soundbaths,” where the music would be played in front of an audience.
Vonlenska (Eng: Hopelandic) is a term coined by the band to refer to the vocalizations that Jónsi sings on ( ) in lieu of lyrics in Icelandic or English. It takes its name from „Von”, a song on Sigur Rós’s debut album Von where it was first used. However, not all Sigur Rós songs are in Hopelandic; many are sung in Icelandic.
Vonlenska differs from both natural and constructed languages used for human communication, and it is instead a form of glossolalia. It consists of strings of meaningless syllables containing non-lexical vocables and phonemes. There is no grammatical relation between or among syllables, nor are they accompanied by clearly defined word boundaries. Vonlenska emphasizes the phonological and emotive qualities of human vocalizations, and it uses the melodic and rhythmic elements of singing without the conceptual content of language. In this way, it is similar to the use of scat singing in vocal jazz and puirt à beul in traditional Scottish and Irish folk music. The band’s website describes it as „a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music”; It is similar in concept to the ethereal vocals used by Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the syllable strings sung by Jónsi are repeated many times throughout each song, and in the case of ( ), throughout the whole album.