Ágætis byrjun

Sigur Rós

album cover

Icelandic Rockers Glimpse the Future

The title of this album, the second effort from Icelandic grandeur merchants Sigur Rós, translates roughly as "Good Start." But it's more than that—it's a dispatch from some vast and exotic realm, a fantastical frozen Narnia where keening voices echo in the upper atmosphere.

Ágætis byrjun was named Iceland's "Album of the Century" when it was released there in 1999. After the band made several tours of Europe, the album won worldwide release in 2001; by the following year, Sigur Rós was performing at festivals and adjusting to life as a Next Big Thing. Rock fans starved for something majestic found themselves hooked: It didn't matter that most of the lyrics were sung in either Icelandic, or a made-up language its members called "Hopelandic." The words were far less important than the way Jón Þhor Birgisson sang them, in an angelic true-believer falsetto.

To someone weaned on U2, say, the Sigur Rós mael-strom can be a mindblower, a wondrous dream state that's planted in Pink Floydy space rock but has a touch of spiritual fervor (and even, at times, optimism) peeking through. The pieces, mostly somber processionals, are augmented with slowly oscillating synthesizers and inventive writing for strings. Yet the slow churn rarely leads to the expected fireworks-erupting peaks of anthem rock (for that, see Sigur Rós's more accessible 2005 release, Takk). Instead, Sigur Rós—which, after this album, built a recording studio in a drained indoor swimming pool—seeks refuge on some barren icy tundra far away from rock and roll, and manages, through sheer dedication and a taste for extremely lavish sonics, to lure others to it.

Genre: Rock
Released: 2001, MCA
Key Tracks: "Svefn-g-englar," "Ný batteri"
Catalog Choice: Takk
Next Stop: Pink Floyd: Ummagumma
After That: Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
Book Pages: 700–701

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#1 from Graham Hallett, Fort Collins, Colorado - 10/19/2008 2:21

This is a beautiful show and their noise is so epic and needs to be featured for the whole world to see and cherish.

#2 from Leonard Dixon, Portland, OR - 02/13/2009 2:56

This is a groundbreaking album that will certainly stand the test of time.  Their compositions are indeed epic in scope, and many of their songs have the depth and feeling of the best modern classical music ~ IMO, of course!

Although I like their 3 more recent albums even better, this is a good introduction to Sigur Ros’ work.

#3 from Mike R. - 03/03/2009 3:44

This album is nothing short of amazing.  Sigur Ros’ creativity continues to impress me with every album that they release.  Their live performances are an ethereal experience that only is possible with a few bands out there.  I hope they come back around for another U.S. Tour.

Mike R.

Seattle bankruptcy lawyer

#4 from Iceland, San Diego, CA - 02/19/2010 9:37

Having recently ‘discovered’ Iceland by traveling there and taking some tours with a friend, I was motivated to explore other Icelandic culture and found Sigur Ros’.  It’s on the permanent playlist now!

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