Saturday, March 13, 2010

Björk who?

Having been a huge Sigur Rós fan since discovering their sophomore album, Ágætis byrjun, several years ago, and subsequently developing an unquenchable thirst for all things Icelandic, it was with baited breath that I waited for frontman Jón Þór Birgisson (known as Jónsi) to release his solo debut.

"Boy Lilikoi", released late last year, was the first taste of the brilliance to come. Backed by a staccato drum pattern and swirling woodwind, the song is upbeat, rapturous, and almost childlike, with Jonsí imploring his "boy lilikoi" to grab life because "the world goes and flutters by".

The album, Go, begins with a similarly uplifting track, "Go Do", reminiscent of "Gobbledigook" from Sigur Ros' Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. In fact, it is one of the most uplifting pieces of music I have ever heard, and I've had it on repeat since I got the album. Jonsí creates an incredibly euphonic wall of sound from whirling synths, flute blasts, and percussion by way of pummeling furiously on a suitcase (yes, a suitcase - if you don't believe me, watch the beautiful video for "Go Do" after the post). It is the perfect accompaniment to the endlessly layered vocals which plead "Go! Do!"; to seize life and "always know that we can do anything".

Interestingly, Jonsí mostly sings in English on the album, though his vocal delivery is so like an instrument itself, it is sometimes impossible to tell what language he is singing in. He is simply part of the orchestra. Although the music is often far removed from that of Sigur Rós, a certain melancholy remains, and there is a clever juxtaposition of despondent lyrics and euphoric melody.

However, the music is not at all times upbeat. "Kolniður" is almost terrifying while the dark, brooding "Tornado" begins with echoey piano chords in the style of Radiohead's "Pyramid Song", and before long is awash with strings and cymbal crashes, building to a frightening climax of clattering marching drums as if Jónsi himself is leading an army to battle. Although foreboding, its subject matter is concurrent with that of the whole album - enjoy life while you can.

Jónsi has crafted something beautiful, with so many layers both musically and thematically, that you'll find yourself jerked to and fro between the poles of human emotion, all while dancing around your bedroom like a mad yoke. This is pop music as it should be.

Jónsi - Go Do from Jónsi on Vimeo.

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