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  • Sigur Rós Albums From Worst To Best
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Back in 1999, the year Sigur Rós released their international breakthrough, Agaetis Byrjun, Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson wrote the following mission statement on his band’s website: “We are not a band, we are music … We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. And don’t think we can’t do it, we will.” As we all know, that kind of overblown arrogance isn’t unusual in the pop music mainstream. (Among other quotable tidbits, Kanye West recently told W Magazine, “I’m the No. 1 living and breathing rock star. I am Axl Rose; I am Jim Morrison; I am Jimi Hendrix.’”) Still, that sort of sentiment felt awfully strange coming from the mild-mannered frontman of an obscure Icelandic post-rock band.

During a recent Q+A — five studio albums and 14 years after the fact — Spin presented Birgisson with that quote. He responded with laughter, reflecting on his band’s formative years with a nostalgic glow. “You’re young and full of energy and have this cockiness,” he said. “I think it’s beautiful.”

And Agaetis Byrjun’s sprawling majesty warranted such cockiness. Arriving two years after the tentative ambient soundscapes of Von, Agaetis cemented the band’s sonic trademarks and signaled a jaw-dropping creative re-birth. Over lush orchestrations, Georg Hólm’s whale-moan bass, and Kjartan Sveinsson’s ornate keyboards, we meet Birgisson — singing in an ethereal falsetto, sawing at his electric guitar with a cello bow (a la Jimmy Page) to conjure black-magic drones. Dumbfounded, critics searched for an easy comparison — lumping the band with acts like Mogwai and Gospeed You! Black Emperor in the “post-rock” scene — even though this sound was clearly unlike anything they’d ever heard. When all else failed, they used Icelandic imagery as descriptors, comparing Birgisson’s guitar tone to a drifting, gargantuan glacier. And when coherent sentences failed, they simply gushed: “They sound like god weeping tears of gold in heaven,” wrote Melody Maker.

But most fans wouldn’t argue with that description. For many (myself included), the Sigur Rós live show is a transportive, communal experience, a sort of secular church service — instead of the Holy Spirit, we’re moved by the band’s intangible force, their delicate balancing act of violent aggression and hypnotic respite. It hardly matters whether Birgisson’s singing in gibberish (critics dubbed this approach “Hopelandic”) or his native Icelandic — at a Sigur Rós show, we’re all speaking in tongues.

The band’s recorded output is equally revered — most Sigur Rós diehards remember our “first time” with misty eyes and goosebumps. I described mine in this Boston Phoenix review of the live album Inni: “The first time I ever listened to Sigur Rós — I mean, really listened to Sigur Rós — I was on the toilet, strapped into my headphones, picking apart the liner notes to their landmark Agaetis Byrjun like I’d discovered a holy relic. I cried — on the toilet.”

Inevitably, the band’s exotic mystique has shrunk through time and exposure. On their subsequent five albums (from the moody, textural ( ) to their brighter, more eclectic commercial break-outs Takk… and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust), they emerged as arguably the most visible and influential Icelandic band of all-time, selling hoards of albums and packing stadium gigs. These days, “Sigur Rós-y” is used as an adjective. Their influence is massive, almost daunting — you can trace their sound from post-metal to indie-rock, from Radiohead to fucking Coldplay. It’s hard to believe the same guy who co-wrote the spine-tingling “Svefn-g-englar” could feasibly write a song for the How To Tame Your Dragon soundtrack.

But Sigur Rós have evolved. This isn’t the same band who created Agaetis Byrjun — they’re no longer the earnestly cocky youngsters who wrote that breathless website mission statement all those years ago. They’ve evolved, matured, grown more accessible — discovered pop, electronica, English. And we Sigur Rós disciples have been along for every second of this unlikely ride through brilliance. To celebrate this month’s release of Kveikur, their seventh studio album, let’s explore the highs and lows (Let’s admit it: It’s mostly highs) of the band’s catalog, from worst to best.

Start the Countdown here.

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Comments (63)
  1. Paul McNeil  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2013 +13

    Personally, I would probably put Takk above Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, and ( ) would be my number 2. I really like Kveikur, but it’s too soon for me to place it that high…

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  3. I always suspected I liked the wrong Sigur Ros albums. This confirms it.

  4. ( ) below Kveikur is a real bummer

  5. *Checks to see if Agaetis Byrjun is the top album* *see it is*

    *reads rest of the article*

    I agree with every one on this list. And I fucking LOVE Von that hot mess it is. I’m so excited I, after 8 years of near misses, get to see them in October.

  6. Man: am I the only one who used to absolutely LOVE Sigur Ros and nowadays can’t even physically bring himself to listen to their music? It never happened to me with any other band: even my 12 year old passion for Queen still endures as a guilty pleasure. But these guys? No way.

    Anyhow, when I loved them, Agaetis Byrjun was obviously pure perfection.

    • Yeah, I haven’t even listened to their last 2 albums and I barely listened to Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust but ( ) has such a hold in my life from my history with it, though I feel like I need to be in such a super-specific Sigur Ros mood to enjoy their music, like I can’t just put it on and vibe to it, I need to need it. but yeah Agaetis and ( ) are pretty perfect, I love them, they help me remember my younger (more melodramatic) self – and for the comfort they provided me I will always be grateful.

    • I went through a pretty fierce Sigur Ros backlash for a good part of the 00s. I saw them live in 01 at a beautiful church and the whole thing was just lovely…but deadly boring and redundant. I spent the next decade shrugging off their existence as pretty, but samey. I’ve finally accepted that Agaetis Byrjun really is THAT good, even if I never really feel the need to listen to it and that I’ve been periodically won over by other stuff. They don’t excite me the way they once did, but I’m no longer vocal in my opposition, either.

    • Just turn on their new album for a while… It’s pretty short and very song-oriented. You might like it!

    • I feel like I very easily could have ended up there…but then I saw them play live. After that, my love for their stuff was solidified.

  7. I don’t know if I should even comment here, this is too close to my soul. My heart is beating fast just thinking of all the things I want to say about this amazing band who easily sits amongst my top 3 of all time. And the two times I have seen them rank confortably amongst the best shows I’ve ever seen. Moved to tears both times.

    I personally love Von, maybe even more than Valtari. It has a quiet hypnoticism to it that is kind of addicting to me. “Hafsol” and “Von” are both KILLER, especially the Hvarf/Heim versions They really haven’t made a bad album in my opinion. My first experience with them was ( ), so that one will always sit high on my list for its influence alone. But I’m kind of blown away you could have Takk… so low. Though I can concede Agaetis is their masterpiece, Takk…is and will always be my absolute favorite. I literally decided to get married while listening to that ablum. It’s the perfect fusion of their old and new sounds. It’s basically ( ) and Med sud met half way.

    And though I love it, I’m shocked you’ve put Kveikur so high. #2? Wow. Time will tell, but Sigur Ros have at least three classics – Agaetis, Takk.. and ( ) – that I think will forever be untouchable in their catalog.

    Anyway, good write up. Sigur Ros isone of the greatest bands of all time, hands down.

  8. My ideas mirror some I’ve read already here. i came in at Agaetis two years late and was floored. It was that time in my life I started to really get into music (at least music I consider now to be truly great). () was amazing and I thought Sigur Ros could do no wrong. I loved Takk but could see them waning and felt an urge to keep them in my head as infallible. Therefore, my journey stopped there. I casually listened to the later albums but never let myself really pick them apart. Kveikur is making me rethink this notion, and that makes my happy.

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    • woozefa  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2013 0

      i specifically love that you have a couple that don’t even exist, spelling-wise. color me intrigued.

      • I vaguely detest that you have taken the trouble to point out my incorrect (but phoenetically descipherable) spelling of and/or lack of even attempting to spell words from a language spoken by about 300,000 people in the entire world. Color me reminded of the inherent pointlessness of message boards.

  10. How did you guys know I was watching the Jaguar Shark sequence from The Life Aquatic and getting all weepy? You guys…you know me so well.

  11. Yes! I have been listening to Kveikur a lot and in my opinion it is their greatest album since Ágætis Byrjun. Great to know that i’m not the only one who feels that way. The summer of 2013 is packed with good music.

    Like it says in “Viðrar vel til loftárasa”: Það besta sem guð hefur skapað er nýr dagur.

  12. A lot of people hate the naked album. I don’t really get why! “Festival” is one of their top five songs to me. The first two tracks are exciting and uplifting, and it contains my ultimate sigur ros song: Fljotavik

    • It was the album that kind of brought me back after I went on a half-decade long anti-Sigur Ros soujourn.

    • I really don’t like that album at all because it is way too twee, lacks intensity and is entirely too earthbound. Sigur Ros is at their best (as most music is, IMO) when they are dynamic, epic and ethereal.

  13. How are you going to say the back half of Takk is boring when it has Gong on it?

  14. I would swap Kveikur and Takk, and keep everything else the same. I absolutely adore Takk front to back, and I just don’t understand when people say it’s a lesser SR album. Hoppípolla alone is better than the entirety of Kveikur, in my opinion. And I really like Kveikur.

  15. like kidchair, this band’s so close to me (and i have so many things i want to say) that i’m not sure i should even comment. but here it goes anyways…always appreciate these lists, and really no one can complain with agaetus byrjun taking the top spot. probably the best, but easily their most important (in the sense that it’s the waypoint for the mystery that still somewhat surrounds this band and everything they have produced since that release).

    takk…, though, is easily my favorite from their catalogue. it was the first SR album that i felt was really my own (took a dive into their discography in the fall of 2004) and the best concert experience in my life occured seeing them on this tour. they played a steel-roofed, open-air amphitheater in boston in may 2006. it was unseasonably cold (low 40s) and pouring rain, so you could see jonsi’s breath when he sang and the music would always be taken over by the thundering of rain on the steel roof any time a song quieted. felt like seeing them in their natural habitat, pretty surreal experience.

    great list though ryan!

  16. “Sigur Ros Albums From Least Best To Best Best.”

  17. Ok, so I truly believe Sigur Ros made 3 albums so great that I’d compare them to The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A. AB, (), and Takk. The others are great too….but to not have these as the top three is a little questionable. I can’t rank these albums. It’s like ranking Radiohead (or even Pink Floyd) albums. Really too great to put numbers on.

  18. 1. Ágætis byrjun
    2. ( )
    3. Von
    4. Takk…
    5. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
    6. Valtari
    7. Kveikur

    I guess I’m one of those rare Sigur Rós fans that loves ‘Von’… hmm.

  19. 1. ( )
    2. Takk…
    3. Ágætis byrjun
    4. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
    5. Von
    6. Valtari

    I cant rank Kveikur yet because I’ve only listened to it once.

  20. Awesome Opossum is always right so all of you who will disagree I preface this with a “suck it.”

    Valtari needs to stop getting pooped on. It’s their 2nd best album (does the first need mentioning?)

    Valtari is Godly, Godly, Godly. There’s nothing boring or disjointed about it. There’s nothing “out of place.”
    There’s nothing but sheer awesomeness.

    It’s awesome.

    Opossum Out.

  21. 1. ( )
    2. A.B.
    3. Takk
    4. Med sum yada yada
    5. Von
    6. Kveikur
    7. Valtari

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always agreed with the conventional wisdom that says A.B. is a masterpiece, but ( ) is just another level of perfection for me. So much darkness, so much hope, confusion, deep breaths, love, it’s the best.

  22. Also, props to the writer for only using the word “glacial” once, and completely avoiding “iceberg”.

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  24. Im glad people feel the same way about ( ) that I do. It can sometimes make me cry when I listen to it and Im not exactly sure why. Just pure elation.

    1. ( )
    2. AB
    3. Takk…
    4. meo…endalaust
    5. valtari
    6. von
    7. kveikur (too soon to have this one any higher)

  25. 1.Ágætis byrjun
    2. ( )
    3. Takk..
    4. Valtari
    5. Kveikur
    6. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
    7. Von

    3,4,5,6 and are very interchangeable. Valtari is definitely underrated though. Ekki Mukk is top 5 sigur ros.

  26. Almost a perfect list. Just switch Takk.. and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.

    1. Agaetis Byrjun
    2. ( )
    3. Kveikur (in time I think it will be number 2)
    4. Go (Jonsi solo)
    5. Takk..
    6. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
    7. Valtari
    8. Von

    There are a few others worth checking out too, particularly the Angels of the Universe soundtrack. Nearly every note they have every recorded is pretty brilliant. Also I wonder how many people just copy and pasted the correct spelling and such for Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust?

  27. So can I start a new band that speaks its own gibberish language and pretentiously titles albums with punctuation marks or is that like so passe now?

  28. This list is so bizarre to me.

    • I think “Takk…” is way too good to be as low as it is. I don’t understand the write-up on that album at all – “Milano” and “Andvari” racing to the finish line? Of all the songs on the album, “Milano” has made me almost crash my car more than any of the other songs on Takk. I’ve literally beaten my steering wheel into itself. And then comes “Svo hljótt”, possibly my favorite song they’ve ever created.

      So…. there.

  29. Pretty cool band but in that first pic they look like fucking Korn

  30. Looking back at Kveikur a few months after release, it is still awesome. still better than Von, and Valtari, and I just think all of the others are too hard to rank after that, except that AB will always be the best.

  31. Having listened to Kveikur several times over the past few months, I am at the conclusion that it leaves me a little cold. I really, really love the title track but overall, it’s a little disappointing.
    It appears to be an unpopular opinion among fans of SR but, I think Valtari is a hugely under rated piece of work. It’s better than Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust and Kveikur, for me.
    My order would be:

    1. ( )
    2. Ágætis byrjun
    3. Takk and Valtari (can’t split them).
    5. Kveikur
    6. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
    7. Von

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