By Jessica Misener
April 6, 2010
What’s so great about life? If you give Jonsi Birgisson the chance to philosophize through your sound system, he’ll tell you: everything. [Editor's note: Check out our Q&A with Jonsi]
Go is the debut solo album from Birgisson, the frontman of post-rock mainstay Sigur Rós, and stalwart fans of the Icelandic quartet can breathe easy—there’s no shortage here of his trademark falsetto and soaring melodic crescendos.
But also, for those who’ve ever wished that songs like "Við spilum endalaust” could be a bit more accessible, Birgisson aims to please with a new musical taste for pop sensibilities. If a Sigur Rós album is like that Mystery Flavor Stride Gum, pleasant but inscrutable, then Go is straight up Juicy Fruit: simple and unapologetically bursting with sweetness and glee.
For ten years, Birgisson has fronted a band that built its fame on arctic enigma—albums titled with nothing but pronunciation, lyrics composed in a made-up language called Hopelandic, songs stuffed with long stretches of bowed guitar and glockenspiel. Here he seems determined to dial down the pretension of Sigur Rós—and to escape mirroring its sound—by enlisting the help of composer Nico Muhly, who worked previously with Bjork and on Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Together with producers Alex Somers and Peter Katis (Interpol, The National), he’s put together an album that’s a mainstream-dabbling embrace of lush pop and worldly sparkle.
Birgisson composed the songs for Go over the stretch of a decade, but he’s helped much by Muhly, who allows his wild-eyed arrangements to swarm Birgisson’s tracks with bursts of synthesizer and percussion, as on the galloping “Around Us.” “Animal Arithmetic” is a celebratory study of life's mundane joys: "Every day, everywhere, people are so alive/we should all be all alive.”
Elsewhere, currents of freedom, adventure, joy and creation lace through the tracks. Lead-off single “Boy Lilikoi” is a sparkling, crescendo-soaked romp, bursting with the same airy majesty as a Sigur Rós song, but with something new: a pop structure and narrative lyrics.
“It’s about a beautiful nature boy living in a jungle,” Birgisson tells RELEVANT. “It’s kind of a wistful fantasy song.”
Birgisson sings in English for the first time on this debut, and without the wordless drones of Hopelandic, his trademark falsetto can border on twee, especially on lyrics like “The world goes a flutter by.” “We should always know that we can do anything,” urges “Go Do.” If cirrus clouds became music, this would be it.
But lest it seem that Disney has secretly commissioned Birgisson to pen a second soundtrack to “Fantasia,” the album unfolds into more elegiac songs like “Tornado” and “Hengilis,” which recall both Sigur Rós’ plaintive moans and the swelling ballads of Radiohead. “Sinking Friendships” and “Grow Till Tall” will be cozy sonic spaces for Sigur Rós fans, vibrating with the same intensity and gradual melodies. It’s on these majestic ballads that the album finally finds it zenith.
Birgisson has fearlessly sought to infuse his post-rock comfort zone with a peppier melodic energy, and the result is a bag of orchestral cotton candy that sometimes verges on over-the-top. But ultimately Go is a effervescent album that celebrates life as a precious gift. Who doesn’t need a reminder of that?
Jessica Misener can be found online at http://www.jessicamisener.com.