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Sigur Rós

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Title: Sigur Rós  
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Subject: Kjartan Sveinsson, Music of Iceland, Dean DeBlois, Flood (producer), Valgeir Sigurðsson
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Sigur Rós

Sigur Rós
Sigur Rós performing in 2013. From left to right:
Goggi, Jónsi and Orri.
Background information
Origin Reykjavík, Iceland
Genres Post-rock
Years active 1994–present
Labels Fat Cat, Geffen, EMI, XL, Smekkleysa
Associated acts Amiina, Jónsi & Alex, Jónsi, The Album Leaf
Website .uk.cosigur-ros
Members Jón Þór Birgisson
Georg Hólm
Orri Páll Dýrason
Past members Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson
Kjartan Sveinsson

Sigur Rós (Icelandic pronunciation:  [1]) are an Icelandic post-rock band from Reykjavík, who have been active since 1994. Known for their ethereal sound, frontman Jónsi Birgisson's falsetto vocals, and the use of bowed guitar,[2] the band's music is also noticeable for its incorporation of classical and minimalist aesthetic elements. The band is named after Jónsi's sister Sigurrós Elín.[3]


1997–1998: Von and Von brigði

Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson (drums) formed the group in Reykjavík in January 1994.[3] The band's name is Icelandic wordplay: while the individual words Sigur and Rós mean, respectively, Victory and Rose, "Victory Rose" wouldn't be grammatically correct; the name is actually borrowed from Jónsi's younger sister Sigurrós, who was born a few days before the band was formed,[3] and then split into two words.[4] They soon won a record deal with the local Sugarcubes-owned record label Bad Taste, because they thought the falsetto vocals were very cute and would appeal to teenage girls. In 1997, they released Von (pronounced , meaning "hope") and in 1998 a remix collection named Von brigði (). This name is also Icelandic wordplay: Vonbrigði means "disappointment", but Von brigði means "variations on Von". The band was joined by Kjartan Sveinsson on keyboards in 1998. He is the only member of Sigur Rós with musical training, and has contributed most of the orchestral and string arrangements for their later work.[5][6]

1999–2001: Ágætis byrjun

International acclaim came with 1999's Ágætis byrjun ( "A Good Beginning"). The album's reputation spread by word of mouth over the following two years. Soon critics worldwide hailed it as one of the great albums of all time,[7] and the band was playing support to established acts such as Radiohead. Three songs, "Ágætis byrjun", "Svefn-g-englar", and a live take of the then-unreleased "Njósnavélin" (later 'unnamed' "Untitled #4") appeared in the Cameron Crowe film Vanilla Sky. The former two also subsequently appeared in the US version of the television series Queer as Folk. Their music has also appeared in the TV series 24 with "Ný batterí", and CSI with "Svefn-g-englar". In 2004, Wes Anderson used "Starálfur" in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou[8] as did the Emmy-winning 2005 TV film The Girl in the Café. In Enki Bilal's Immortel (Ad Vitam) the song "Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm)" is used. The song "Svefn-g-englar" was also used on V on 24 November 2009 and features prominently in Café de Flore released in 2011. The song "Andvari" was also used in 2010 Film "Remember me".

After the release of Ágætis byrjun, the band became well known for Jónsi's signature style of reverb accentuated guitar work using a cello's bow.

2001–2004: ( )

In 2001, Sigur Rós christened their newly completed studio by recording an EP called Rímur with an Icelandic fisherman named Steindór Andersen. The EP contains six songs, all of which feature Steindór Andersen reciting traditional Icelandic poetry called rímur. Sigur Rós accompany him on three songs. Two songs feature Steindór alone. The last song on the EP, "Lækurinn", is a duet with Sigurður Sigurðarson. A thousand copies of the EP were printed and sold during the spring tour of 2001. The EP was sold in a blank-white-paper case.[9]

Drummer Ágúst left the band after the recording of Ágætis byrjun and was replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason.[10] In 2002, their highly anticipated follow-up album ( ) was released. Upon release all tracks on the album were untitled, though the band later published song names on their website. All of the lyrics on ( ) are sung in Vonlenska, also known as Hopelandic, a constructed language without semantic meaning, technically glossolalia, which resembles the phonology of the Icelandic language. It has also been said that the listener is supposed to interpret their own meanings of the lyrics which can then be written in the blank pages in the album booklet.

In 2002, the band also wrote an original score for the Bodyscript dance production by Wayne McGregor Random Dance in collaboration with Sadler's Wells Theatre and the Arts Council England.

Sigur Rós collaborated with Radiohead in October 2003 to compose music for Merce Cunningham's dance piece Split Sides; Sigur Rós’s three tracks were named Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do and released in March 2004 while Radiohead's contribution was never released. Sigur Rós' 1997 debut album Von found a US and UK release in October 2004.

"Untitled 3" (a.k.a. Samskeyti) from the album is used on the video 6AM by film maker Carmen Vidal, winner of the 2006 Student Academy Award.[11] "Untitled 3" is also used at the end credits of the indie drama movie, Mysterious Skin. It can also be heard in Skins and CSI: Miami and the British TV Documentary Protecting Our Children as well as during a section of the London 2012 summer Olympics on the BBC.[12] "Untitled 4" from the album (also called "Njósnavélin") featured in the final scene of Vanilla Sky, and director Cameron Crowe commented, "We struggled to find an appropriate track to end the film with and then I went to see Sigur Rós perform in Los Angeles and they played this song, "Njósnavélin", that was just perfect. I had to have it."[13]

2005–2006: Takk...

Sigur Rós performing in Barcelona, 2005
Sigur Rós performing in Hong Kong, on 7 April 2006.

Their fourth album, Takk... ([ˈtʰaʰk]; "Thanks...") employs the distinctive sound of their second album in a more rock oriented structure with greater use of the guitar, and was released in September 2005. "Hoppípolla" ([ˈhɔʰpiˌpʰɔtl̥a] "Hopping into puddles"), the second official single from Takk..., was released in November alongside a new studio remake of "Hafsól" ([ˈhafsoʊ̯l] "Ocean Sun"), a song that was previously released on the band's 1997 debut, Von. "Hoppípolla" was used in the trailers for the BBC's natural history series Planet Earth in 2006, as well as the closing credits for the 2006 FA Cup final, ITV's coverage of the 2006 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, advertisements for the BBC's coverage of England games during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, on television advertisements for RTÉ's Gaelic games coverage in Ireland, and on an advertisement for Oxfam. It was also used in the final scene of the movie Penelope, for the trailer of the film Children of Men and for the trailer of the film Slumdog Millionaire. Following this, demand for the single grew. It was made more widely available by EMI in consequence. This song is also used in the trailer for the Disney movie Earth as well as in the 2011 film We Bought a Zoo.

An extended Sæglópur EP ([ˈsaɪ̯ˌkloʊ̯pʏr]) was released in July 2006 in most parts of the world and in August in the United States. Its original release was scheduled in May, but because of the sudden demand of "Hoppípolla" it was pushed back from that date. Sigur Rós recorded three new songs to appear on the EP ("Refur", "Ó friður", and "Kafari"). In July 2006, Sigur Rós finished a major world tour with stops in Europe, the United States (where they played a headline show at the Hollywood Bowl), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Japan. Upon return to their homeland, Sigur Rós provided a series of free surprise outdoor concerts throughout Iceland in July and August, playing in various venues such as abandoned bunkers and community coffee shops, all of which were included in the 2007 documentary film Heima. They also performed twice in the United States in February.[14]

2007: Heima and Hvarf/Heim

At UCLA in 2008, playing an acoustic set before screening Heima

In August 2007, a limited DVD+CD edition of the 2002 soundtrack to the documentary Hlemmur was released. Hvarf/Heim () was released on 5 November (6 November in the U.S.), a double compilation album containing studio versions of previously unreleased songs — "Salka" , "Hljómalind" (formerly known as "Rokklagið"), "Í Gær" [i ˈcaɪ̯r] and "Von" on Hvarf, and acoustic studio versions of the songs: "Samskeyti" ([ˈsamˌscɛɪ̯tɪ]), "Starálfur" [ˈstarˌaʊ̯lvʏr], "Vaka" [ˈvaːka], "Ágætis Byrjun", "Heysátan" [ˈhɛɪ̯saʊ̯tan] and "Von", on Heim. On the same day (20 November in the U.S.) Heima, a live DVD of the previous summer’s Iceland tour, was released. Just prior to the release of Hvarf/Heim, on 29 October, a single named "Hljómalind" was released.

To promote their film Heima, the band scheduled a series of premiere screenings throughout the world, featuring a short acoustic set before the film and a question-and-answer session afterwards.

2008: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

The band's fifth regular studio album (pronounced , "With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly"), recorded with producer Flood in downtown Reykjavík,[15] was released in June 2008 to generally positive reviews. Stylistically different from their earlier releases, it featured fewer strings and more guitar,[16] and had more pop-oriented songs, making it "the group's most accessible effort" while maintaining the "majestic beauty that defines the band's music."[17] The final track "All Alright" is the band's first to be sung in English, though all the other lyrics are in Icelandic.

Sigur Rós performing in Bournemouth, United Kingdom, 2008

The band were announced as a headlining act for the 2008 Splendour in the Grass Festival in Byron Bay, Australia,[18] Latitude Festival 2008,[19] and the 2008 La Route du Rock Festival in St Malo, France.[20] In addition, the band performed a late-night set at the 2008 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee,[21] where they blew a speaker at the end of their second song. Jónsi Birgisson commented, "The piano is exploding, I think," one of the few things spoken in English.

The band released the first song from the album entitled "Gobbledigook" for free on their website, along with a music video.[22][23]

On 8 June, the whole album was made available for free streaming on their website[24] and[25]

In the fall of 2008 Sigur Rós embarked on a world tour supporting their newly released album. The band played as a four-piece without Amiina and the brass band, the first time the band had played as a four-piece in seven years. The tour started on 17 September 2008 in the United States, at the United Palace Theater in New York City, and finished with a concert in Reykjavík at Laugardalshöll on 23 November 2008. The majority of the tour was European with the exception of concerts in the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan.

The track "Festival" from the album features in the score of the 2010 film 127 Hours, providing the euphoric backing to the climax of the movie. It is also featured at the end of HBO mini-series "24/7 – Flyers-Rangers".

The track "Untitled #7 (Dauðalagið)" was also featured in the launch trailer for Dead Space.

2009–2012: Hiatus, Inni, Valtari

In 2009, Jónsi embarked on a solo adventure with his first solo album "Go" (released in 2010).[26]

On 28 May 2009, Sigur Rós announced that they had almost completed recording their latest album.[27] The band said the album was taking form as a slower and more ambient record than both Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust and Takk.... The music was also described as melodic but much less noisy and more "out there" than previous albums. The unnamed album was expected to be released sometime in 2010. However, the band later revealed that the recordings had been scrapped. In a 2010 interview, Jónsi confirmed "We haven't got another album ready", he said. "It was just a rumour. We started to record something, but then we chucked it all away. So I think we are going to have to start it all again".[28] Without further word on the new album, Sigur Rós were rumoured to be on indefinite hiatus as of January 2010.[28] However, before taking the stage at Coachella in April 2010, Jónsi commented that Sigur Rós would be getting back to work that year: "I'm gonna record some other stuff with Sigur Rós when I'm home", between a series of shows during his solo tour in summer 2010.[29] On 1 February 2011, Jónsi's official website announced that he would be back in the studio with the band over the spring.[30]

On 11 August 2011 Sigur Rós's official website unveiled a trailer for a project called Inní,[31] a DVD and double CD of the band's live performances in London, directed by Vincent Morisset. It was screened at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, and saw official release in November 2011. On 16 September 2011, the Inni album and live video became available to pre-order from the band's site in a variety of formats. Additionally, the band made the video for the song "Festival" available to watch online, as well as offering a free download of the audio from a live performance of the song.[32]

On 3 November 2011, following the UK premiere of Inni at the

"The band's next album is scheduled for release in the spring. Based on excerpts presented by Mr. Sveinsson, the new music promises to be as exceptional as the best of the band's catalog. Mr. Hólm called it "introverted", while Mr. Birgisson said it was "floaty and minimal". "An ambient album" was how Mr. Dýrason described it, with "a slow takeoff toward something". For a visitor who heard a preliminary recording in which Mr. Birgisson's falsetto was surrounded by rich choral voices and what sounded like a pipe organ, the music was thrilling".[33]

Beginning in February 2012, Sigur Rós announced their live return with festival appearances at Bestival in England, Summer Sonic Festival in Japan, and other shows in Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Poland, and Italy.[34][35] The band was also added to Montréal's Osheaga 2012 lineup, and the 2012 Lollapalooza lineup.[36]

Additionally, after a four-year hiatus, an interview with the band in the March 2012 issue of Q magazine confirmed the completion of a new album, titled Valtari, scheduling its release on 28 May 2012.[37][38] On 26 March 2012, the band released the first official single from the album, "Ekki múkk."[37][39] On 14 April 2012, a lower quality version of the complete album leaked out on the internet.[40] On 10 May 2012, Sigur Rós's new track "Dauðalogn" was premiered on "The Departed", the season 3 finale of The Vampire Diaries.[41]

It was rumored that an already-complete additional album would follow-up their sixth release, Valtari.[42] However, the band has dismissed the rumor as a "fabrication".[43][44]

On 2 November 2012, Georg Hólm confirmed that the band had already started work on a new album, due to be released some time in 2013. He described it as a dramatic change of direction, "an anti-Valtari".[45] The band performed a new song, entitled "Brennisteinn" ('brimstone'), in Reykjavik on 4 November at the Iceland Airwaves 2012 festival, to favourable reception.[46] On 12 November 2012, the band announced a new North American tour, to take place in March and April 2013. The band also announced that every ticket purchased will include a new digital copy of a three-track EP, containing new and unreleased music, made available to ticket holders on 22 March 2013.[47][48]

2013–present: three-piece band, Kveikur

Sigur Rós performing live at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall, England, in 2013
On 24 January 2013, the band held a Q&A session via the social news website Reddit. Through this, the band announced the departure of Kjartan Sveinsson, saying "Yes[,] he has left the band. He said he spent half his life in the band and it was time to do something different."[49] Kjartan's departure transformed the band into a "three piece band" (as referenced by the band itself.)[50]

In spite of Kjartan's departure, the band announced their seventh studio album, entitled Kveikur, on 22 March. On the same day, they also released the album's first single: "Brennisteinn." The album itself was finally released on 14 June (releasing two days earlier in Japan, and four days later in the US) and marked both a musical and thematical change for the band, providing a more aggressive sound, compared to their previous albums. The album was well received by critics, scoring 80 on metacritic,[51] with several reviewers praising for the band's new musical approach, as well as a lack of commercialism.[52][53] The release was marked, by the band, with a new tour, as well as an interactive musical experience, where fans could live stream a concert, taking control of the camera.[54] The band later performed at the iTunes Festival, on 2 September 2013,[55] where selected portions of their concert was later released on 21 October.[56]

The band provided original music and a rendition of "The Simpsons Theme", as well as brief cameo, for The Simpsons episode "The Saga of Carl", which aired on 19 May 2013.[57]

The band appeared in the HBO TV series Game of Thrones episode "The Lion and the Rose" on 13 April 2014.[58][59] They also covered the song "The Rains of Castamere", which was originally recorded by The National for the earlier episode "Blackwater".[60]

A reissue of the band's second album, Ágætis byrjun, is slated for release in early summer 2015. It will feature previously unheard studio and live recordings as well as photographic and documentary material from their personal archives. The band has further teased expanded reissues of Von and ( ).

They are currently working with the American producer John Congleton.[61]


Vonlenska is the non-literal language that forms the unintelligible lyrics sung by the band on some songs,[62] in particular by Jónsi. It is also commonly known by the English translation of its name, Hopelandic. It takes its name from "Von", a song on Sigur Rós’s debut album Von where it was first used. However, not all Sigur Rós songs are in Hopelandic; many are sung in Icelandic.

Vonlenska has no fixed syntax and differs from constructed languages that can be used for communication. It focuses entirely on the sounds of language; it lacks grammar, meaning, and even distinct words. Instead, it consists of emotive non-lexical vocables and phonemes; in effect, Vonlenska uses the melodic and rhythmic elements of singing without the conceptual content of language. In this way, it is similar to the use of scat singing in vocal jazz. The band's website describes it as "a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music";[63] it is similar in concept to the 'nonsense' language often used by Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the syllable strings sung by Jónsi are repeated many times throughout each song, and in the case of ( ), throughout the whole album.


Current members

Former members

Touring members

The Okkr Ensemble (2012–present)

  • Sigrún Jónsdóttir – Trombone
  • Laufey Jensdóttir – Violin
  • Ingrid Karlsdóttir – Viola
  • Guðbjörg Hlín "Guggý" Guðmundsdóttir – Violin
  • Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson – Trumpet
  • Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir – French horn

Occasional additional ensembles



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External links

  • Official website
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