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Sigur Ros- Hvarf-Heim (Album Review)

While Hvarf-Heim’s most obvious title is that of a compilation, that’s only a simple description for the album. Indeed, whether or not Sigur Ros’ compilation of unreleased tracks and acoustic re-releases evokes some warranted snow-covered landscape, it isn’t for lack of atmosphere and tone, Hvarf-Heim full to the brim in carefully constructed and placed settings. Released as a dual album, Hvarf-Heim works as a balance, letting us wander in the ethereal space of Hvarf (“disappear” or “haven”) and come home to the comforting sounds of old, reworked fables with Heim (“home”).

By giving us this balance (like some metaphoric representation of the album title ( ), even in the album’s dual cover art of a frigid, blue field and a warm, orange living room), Sigur Ros can work in a more bombastic manner, Jón ór Birgisson’s Icelandic diction or nonsensical gibberish just part of the story, not the storyteller. With that in mind, Hvarf begins just as uncertain as its title proclaims, the slow and calculated “Salka” channeling the post-rock styling of Explosions in the Sky, building and releasing under Birgisson’s shrill, pain staked cry and distilled, archaic chords. It’s sad and desperate; an elongated, daunting seven-minute opener that hangs in the air like frosted breath. “Salka” (named after bassist Georg Holm’s stepdaughter) embodies the blanketed aloofness of direction that builds to an excited head in “Hljomalind,” a rolling stone of space-y guitars that build into an art house, stadium rock final third and more of what could be Birgisson’s Icelandic gibberish.

Even under the skewed lyricism of Birgisson, Hvarf-Heim is painted with miniscule strokes, the twinkling lullaby of “”Í Gær” (“Yesterday”) breaking into the sinister warps that clouds the commanding drums and bass line. In two different versions, “Von” becomes at once adamant in a slow crescendo under the hollow reverb of stadium guitars and cymbals. In the other, placed appropriately at the end of Heim, it grows from the carpet, a tale of minimalist that slowly drives its production wary drumming into a lazy sense of apathy. With “Hafsol”, Hvarf ends as a retreat towards an earth-toned wonder that relies less on actual instruments and calls more upon sounds of thunderstorms and garden noises, though “Ágætis Byrjun” comes out for the best as the acoustic guitar tinged ballad full of front porch ambiguity.

And through Heim, Sigur Ros’ original releases become homespun nostalgic trips, ( )’s “Untitled 3” a persistent staccato piano in “Samskeyti,” led in on diluted organs, the pianos intensity subtly thickening until merely filtering out under faded violins. “Vaka,” or “Untitled 1,” becomes a beautiful trajectory of childish piano notes that work better out from under the reclusive production ( ) placed it in, and Birgisson shines in some wistful perception of hope. It might lose most of its mysterious luster, but there’s enough brewing under the sedated surface to make Hvarf-Heim (and especially Hvarf) a satisfying listen.
(Review by- Lewis Parry)