Sigur Rós, Inni
By wes jakacki
November 8, 2011
Six years ago, I skipped class to head to Chicago with some friends to catch U2 and Sigur Rós, two spiritually charged bands, on back-to-back nights. Sitting behind us at the Sigur Rós show was a group of eight twentysomethings who had traveled 15 hours from Denver just for the show. After a truly awe-inspiring performance from the Icelandic quartet, I turned around to find these weary travelers embracing with tears of joy rolling down each and every one of their faces. Following any other show, I would find this extremely weird, but following a show with as much emotional pulp as Sigur Rós provides, it somehow felt appropriate.
Inni is Sigur Rós’ second attempt to capture this unearthly magic in video form and their first at capturing it in a digital recording. This double CD/DVD works with some success but is not quite able to replicate the truly astonishing live experience.
In 2007, the post-rock outfit released Heima (“home” in Icelandic), their first film which documented Sigur Rós’ return to their native country playing shows in tiny pastoral villages, large amphitheaters and surrounded by glaciers with the band’s ethereal sound sound-tracking the surreal landscape like an episode of Planet Earth. Inni in many ways is the polar opposite of Heima, as the band trades their brass and string orchestration that brought color and life to their music in favor of a stark, minimalist approach, both in the music by playing as just a four-piece band, and in the film, which is taken completely in grainy black and white footage by director Vincent Morisset (Arcade Fire’s Miroir Noir). The 75 minutes of footage is from a two-show stint at London’s Alexandra Palace, which closed their 2008 tour as a quartet. While the film is not as eye-catching as the beauty of Heima, Inni does offer understated emotion in every video frame and bowed guitar string.
The double-disc album succeeds the most with the songs that best fit the minimalist four-piece outfit, both the sparse piano ballads and moody noise rock. Inni opens with “Svefn-g-englar”—one of their best known songs due to its appearance in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky—as its gloomy atmospherics perfectly contrast lead singer Jón “Jónsi” Birgisson’s strange but pure alto voice. The live version of “All Alright,” the only song in their entire catalog sung in English, is elaborated on tremendously from its fairly dull studio version, giving it new life in the live setting as every piano chord drips with beauty.
The deafening rendition of “Saeglopur” just slays on Inni, as it opens like a bright, dewy spring morning with xylophone and piano before the clouding guitar and thundering drums completely engulf the room. While you can’t fully experience the brilliance of signature closer “Popplagið” without the silhouetted light show that accompanies the song live, you can still envision the magic as Jónsi’s incantations conjure up a monstrous explosion of sound. Unreleased “Lúppulagið” glistens as the afterglow following the chaos of “Popplagið” with purposefully delicate piano haunting you long after you remove the ear buds.
The song selection for Inni picks mostly the best apples with no glaring omissions. Inni pulls fairly equally from their last four albums with a slight weight toward material from their last and cheeriest album, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust. The middle of the set includes a flurry of Sigur Rós’ most cheerful songs, including “Hoppípolla” and “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur,” though these renditions suffer slightly from the lack of additional orchestration. “Hoppípolla,” which I’m fairly confident plays when you reach the pearly gates, starts as hopeful as ever with its unforgettable piano melody but doesn’t reach its usual heights without the additional strings of their usual backing string quartet Amiina, who have also served as their perennial opening band. “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” is much the same, as its playful jig serves as enjoyably light fare amidst a rather heavy set, but feels a bit empty without the horns crescendoing alongside Jónsi’s voice.
In the film portion, an interviewer from NPR asks the band: “Did you start here when making music? Or did you start out as a more regular sounding band?” Two rather awkwardly worded questions, but they definitely cut to the core of who Sigur Rós is: a band delivering music seemingly from another world, creating a beauty that defies conventional standards. The Inni experience gives one just a glimpse, but should serve as just a taste or reminder of the physical live experience.