In my younger days, I was always curious about the audiences for bands on world tours. Specifically, I remember wondering why people in other countries would want to go see a band who sang songs in English, and how those bands got famous worldwide to begin with. As I grew up and realized that most of the rest of the world speaks English as well, this puzzled me less, but it’s still an interesting situation. If R.E.M. is touring Japan or Springsteen is making a trek across Europe, there have to be at least some natives attending these shows who don’t speak English. Consider the opposite scenario. I’m sure there are Japanese pop stars who are HUGE in their native country, but obviously would never attempt to cross over to an American audience.
But once in a while you realize that language is pretty small barrier for the right band. In 2001, I saw Radiohead in Boston, with a particularly compelling opening band I had never heard before. Were one to make a list of “things I don’t expect to witness when seeing a new band,” the following three components would likely appear on the list in question:
- A guitar being strummed violently with a bow
- Lyrics being sung in either Icelandic, or an invented variation of Icelandic
- Those same unintelligible lyrics being sung in a stunningly high falsetto. (Were it not for visual confirmation, you’d have a tough time determining the sex of the vocals.)
It’s not exactly conventional to say the least. More than maybe any other band, I find myself wondering how the process even works when it comes to Sigur Rós writing a song. The compositions are closer to ethereal symphonic compositions than to actual songs. The stunningly hypnotic nature of their output has made them a soundtrack favorite of filmmakers the last several years. Tom Cruise ended Vanilla Sky with them blasting in the background. They hovered below the sea when Steve Zissou confronted the jaguar shark. And their presence in movie trailers borders on overkill at this point. Good Lord. If Iceland could score any cash from Sigur Rós licensing, maybe they wouldn't be bankrupt.
In 2002, they released an album called ( ). None of the tracks on the album had titles. Again not exactly accessible. I’m not sure how you would ask for the album in a store; would you just call it “parentheses?” (Then again, I suppose asking for one of their albums with an actual title wouldn't be much easier.) They also made their US television debut around that time, a pretty impressive booking for a band you wouldn’t expect getting 5 minutes on late night American television.
There will be another Sigur Rós post down the line where I'll expand on this point, but their documentary Heima, shot in Iceland, is one of the greatest looking films you'll ever see. Do some YouTube viewings and you'll want to book a trip.
P.S. Where the hell is Craig Kilborn these days? Drop a line and let us know you’re OK, Craiggers!