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Album review: Sigur Rós' 'Valtari'

May 28, 2012 |  1:00 pm

Album review: Sigur Rós' 'Valtari'
When the Icelandic experimental band Sigur Rós first emerged in the late '90s, its records felt like worlds unto themselves. Regal strings and brass, guitar noise, percussive bombast and Jónsi Birgisson's now-iconic coo: It all added up to a sound so huge and ethereal that few other bands felt capable of matching it.

Now that anyone with a laptop can make decently epic soundscapes, how will Sigur Rós keep its lead? On “Valtari,” it does it by using all its usual tricks, but in even more evocative and expert ways. The band dipped a toe into sunnier pop vibes on 2008's “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust” and Jónsi's 2010 solo album, “Go.” But on “Valtari” it's back to the essentials: oceanic buildups, flickers of treated orchestras and falsetto vocal lines that yank heartstrings, even though you know exactly when they're coming.

The lead single “Eg Anda” winds some Velvet Underground-y mangled guitar into gale-force ambience; “Var” crescendos into a quarter-note pummel of stacked noise. But on the whole, “Valtari” is pretty dazed and ephemeral: tracks such as “Varoeldur” and “Rembihnutur” wander in a fog of flittering vocal samples and synth-pad haze. None of it's too far afield from what you'd expect from Sigur Rós at this point in a long career. But when the mood calls for “emotionally devastating long-form ambient maximalism,” there's no need to ever go elsewhere.

Sigur Rós
“Valtari”
XL Recordings
Three stars (Out of four) 

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