07 April 2010

Jónsi: "Go"

This one is for a colleague of mine – hope you enjoy the read as much as the album.

So what exactly do Bang Gang, Björk, GusGus, Mínus, Parachutes, and Sigur Rós have in common? These are all amazing, groundbreaking bands hailing from Ísland (Iceland). And since 1997, Sigur Rós has been hitting the radio waves, festivals, and indie scene with their own unique brand of post-rock. Earlier this year in January, the band announced that they would go on indefinite hiatus, to the dismay of many fans as rumors abounded of a 2010 release. The silver lining to this very dark cloud? Vocalist and guitarist, who is known to use a cello bow on his electric guitar, Jónsi (Jón Pór Birgisson) released his solo debut proper, “Go” (6 April 2010 in the USA). With a pinch of baroque pop and smidge of post-rock, Jónsi produces a cinematically entrancing album, which will simply blow you away.

By no stretch of the imagination is “Go” a major break from the work of Sigur Rós (which is a good thing), but one thing that is a major shift is that all of the songs are sung in English. Typically, Sigur Rós songs were sung in “Hopelandic” – a made-up, make believe language devoid of syntax or grammar, which relies on melodic effect. Though they used the term “Hopelandic,” this is really not new – think of scat singing in jazz or the glossolalia of Cocteau Twins and The Cranes. Jónsi brings this to English on his solo album, and often you are enraptured by the melody of the vocals, the way its arrangements mirror that of the first violinist’s of an orchestra, and not the actual words. Take “Sinking Friendship,” easily my favorite track on the album, Jónsi sings in glossolalia, at first to a bare arrangement, that slowly become more and more orchestrated with the dropping of the beat. Lyrically hard to decipher (“My lips are pale blue, my shivering half-moon; my lost night’s slowest tune is the end of the end of the end… We’re sinking friendships, we drown more and more”), but follow that post-punk stream of consciousness, you are absorbed into the actual arrangements and style of singing. Meaning, in a literal sense, is meaningless; all the matters is the truth of what you feel when you listen.

“We all grow old, use your life; the world goes and flutters by, use your life,” Jónsi sings in “Boy Lilikoi,” and this is the apt theme for the entire album. Life is fleeting; it will always flutter on by you no matter what you do. But this reality does not have to be demure; as the album sonically demonstrates, this is a mantra to live life by. The music is full of urgency and wonderment. Right from the opening, Jónsi advices, “Go sing, too loud, make your voice break. Sing it out, go scream, do shout, make an earthquake” (“Go Do”). The ultimate goal is to live, to find your voice, and face the world, regardless if falling “into landslide” or giving “into low tide.” And you keep growing as a person (“Grow till tall, they all in the end will fall”), because you have no other real choice, as the slow paced “Grow Till Tall” advocates, because at the end of it all we will all fall, so what better way was there to live life than to live to grow?

Jónsi’s message: do not just live life, but live it on your terms. And I think very few musicians are in a better place to make this assertion than Jónsi. From a small nation, he has reached the world with his music and universal consciousness… being openly gay, he has unfurled his craftsmanship paying no mind to stereotypical expectations… living in a literal world, he has produced music that is symbolic and breathes beyond the mendacity of the black-or-white world. “Go” is not an album that should be taken lightly. From its phantasmagoric orchestration to its advocacy to live life, this is an album that not only sings to a generation, but sings beyond boundaries of generation, national origins, or any such translucent boundaries or differences. And if Oscar Wilde was right, that the only reason to create art is for one to admire it “intensely,” then let the admiration begin!

Track Listing:
1. Go Do
2. Animal Arithmetic
3. Tornado
4. Boy Lilikoi
5. Sinking Friendship
6. Kolniõur
7. Around Us
8. Grow Till Tall
9. Hengilás

Keep up with Jónsi at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is the link for his video for “Go Do” from the SigurRosHD YouTube Channel.

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