I'm not sure how it is possible for the Icelandic group Sigur Ros to continue releasing such consistently beautiful albums. Their latest, two EPs combined into one album titled Hvarf / Heim, explores some unique areas from the band's past. Hvarf, the first EP, is a collection of rarities and previously unrecorded cuts, while Heim shows the band performing familiar tracks live from their past acoustically.
Hvarf opens with the majestic "Salka," a track that feels a bit more straightforward than the elaborate masterpieces as heard on Agetis Byrjun and ( ). The falsetto vocals of Jonsi Birgisson are firmly in the spotlight, drifting through what feels like an Icelandic fairytale. "Hljomalind" is about the closest thing we may ever hear to a pop single from Sigur Ros, with a clearly defined and somewhat catchy chorus. Upbeat drums, guitar solos, repeated melodies... is this really Sigur Ros? On the opposite side of the band's musical spectrum is the lush, slow building "Von," which devoted fans might recall from the band's first album. The song has been completely reworked, filled with soaring orchestral arrangements and bombastic reverb-soaked guitars that gives it all the qualities of the band's finest works.
Heim may very well be my favorite of the two EPs, giving us a fascinating look at the true musical genius in Sigur Ros. Stripping away the soundcapes from songs such as "Samskeyti," we're left with little more than piano and strings. It is beauty in simplicity, showing how great this group's music really is. The familiar "Staralfur," with piano, strings, a hint of acoustic guitar and Birgisson's trademark vocals, sound as if they'd be just as at home in a symphonic concert hall filled with classical connoisseurs as they would in a venue filled with indie rock kids. This classic from the band is stunning in this unplugged setting, and is a real treat as it is a song rarely performed live by the band.
We've known for quite some time that Sigur Ros is a truly special band. Hvarf / Heim simply reinforces that fact, once again proving that they are some of the finest songwriters and musicians of our generation. With songs such as "Heysatan," they have given us the perfect soundtrack for winter.