This article is from Issue 44

Sound of Sigur Ros' Jonsi Birgisson

Music can be spiritual- even when it's a made up language

Has anybody, on a basic level, ever understood a Sigur Rós song? Even if you hail from Iceland, where the post-rock quartet first fired up their glockenspiels in 1994, you might be up a linguistic glacier. The band records mostly in a made-up language called Hopelandic, a strange gibberish of vowels and moans that accentuates their ambient sound.

That’s why it’s especially surprising that lead singer Jónsi Birgisson is about to shatter the language barrier. “I’m singing for the first time in English,” he says of his new solo album, Go, a ninesong LP out March 23.

Of course, there’s more to experiencing music than the lyrics themselves. For more than 10 years, Birgisson has been at the creative forefront of Sigur Rós and of the ambient/post-rock scene itself: transcending octaves with his airy falsetto, playing his guitar with a cello bow and penning instrumental melodies that soar to celestial heights. So now that we can comprehend Birgisson lyrically, what will he say?

According to him, it’s something just as evocative.

“Sigur Rós has been a safe cocoon for me,” he says. “I love writing with my band, because you get to share that creative spark, but I’m also enjoying learning about myself as a songwriter.”

For many Christians, the music of Sigur Rós has been a soundtrack for worship; that is, the band’s soaring melodies and non-linear vocals draw the listener up to focus on higher things. Perhaps it may best be thought of as “spiritual” music—not explicitly religious, but art that tries to transcend the ordinary of human experience and tap into something more than temporal reality. That might sound ridiculous and ostentatious, but it’s also the best way to talk about their music: it’s transporting.