J?nsi – album review

by Jeremy Gould
Epic, lush, beautiful musical landscapes follow.
Iceland is known for its unusual convergence of arresting scenery and unforgiving and unpredictable terrain, filled with volcanoes, geysers and glaciers. Sigur Rós has embraced this duality throughout their career and have amazingly made millions of fans despite the lack of a shared language. They’ve shown that it’s a sound, not a word, that can spark the most visceral attachment to a song. Sigur Rós singer, guitar player and front man Jónsi (Jón Þór Birgisson) strikes out of the Sigur Rós fold, but not altogether abandoning the sound, with his solo effort Go.
Perhaps the most drastic distinction is his choice to sing in English. Although not the most discernible of vocals, it’s still a departure that may open the door to a new wave of fans. The nine tracks encompass nearly 40 minutes and combine the qualities that have become the Sigur Rós calling card- enigmatic, stirring, beautiful and ever building . . . the climax is always on the cusp. With these types of textures, you can rest assured that cinematic and emotional elements of Jónsi’s album are ever present.
Layer after layer of harmony is constructed through the gentle falsetto constantly reminding the listener that sound itself is poignant. The orchestral arrangements, production and instrumentation serve to highlight the most affecting elements of the record. Jónsi has proven himself a stand-alone artist and encompasses a level that few make it to, but with this effort and his 2009 Jónsi & Alex album Riceboy Sleeps, he treads dangerously on saturating the sound that he has become embraced for. At times it feels like he is an artist that paints in one color with only a slight change in tone from piece to piece. But with Sigur Rós being on indefinate hiatus, get it where you can.
Ranging from uptempo songs like ‘Go Do’ and ‘Around Us’ to melancholy odes like ‘Hengilas,’ Jónsi explores the usual suspects including love and the constant mantra to wave your banner of whatever begets you bliss– can we say controlling daddy issues?
This is accessible and will be enjoyed by fan bases as wide ranging as Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You Black Emperor to the most celebrated film score writers like John Williams and Jon Brion.