Whenever there's a massive buzz surrounding an act that's relatively obscure to the general music-listening public, one question that comes to mind is: Will the band meet the hype?
Swarms of critics and finicky music lovers over the past couple of years have flocked to Icelandic group Sigur Rós, one of the most buzzed-about bands on the music scene. Expectations are high for the artsy four piece known for creating rock-based soundscapes brimming with emotion.
"They are fucking amazing," said Little Big Man Booking's Marty Diamond, who represents the band in North America.
Its latest effort, Agaetis Byrjun (A New Beginning), is among the more far-from-center albums to catch the critics' attention over the past year, placing the group on many best-of band lists for 2000 and earning it awards.
Part of the attraction is singer/guitarist JÂ¢n ThÂ¢r Birgisson's angelic vocals that combine Icelandic speech with his invented Hopelandish language. Mixing with his androgynous voice are the album's epic arrangements and rich, spatial textures. The combination seemingly lifts a listener's head into the clouds and never lets go.
In describing the CD's first track, "Sven-g-englar," a Rolling Stone reviewer called it "a song of such accomplished gorgeousness that one wonders why such a tiny country as Iceland can musically out-perform entire continents in just a few short minutes."
While that question can be left to musical scholars to ponder, Sigur Ros bassist Georg Holm said the band doesn't worry about satisfying the demands of critics or the public when performing or writing its music.
"We don't really feel any pressure from the outside to do a good show or record a good album. The pressure is from us," he told POLLSTAR.
"We can always just do what we do. I mean, we're only human, anyway. We like to do things very naturally and let things flow, so we don't really feel any pressure to make a better album than the last one because we know it's going to be better, at least for us," Holm said.
"All of the live shows that we do," he continued, "we always put our heart and soul into every single song in every single show. We really try to make it good. Every show should be good but, of course, they all can't be."
Holm's cool yet confident attitude toward the group's determination and passion for its craft reflects the total freedom of expression found within each Sigur Ros tune. Songs stray from the typical pop song structures and often include periods of ambient space followed by soothing guitars and keyboards accompanying a driving beat and Birgisson's operatic vocals.
The result is unmistakable, and it's Sigur Ros' ability to create its trademark that draws curious listeners closer.
Making the songwriting process sound way too easy, Holm explained how the group developed its signature sound.
"I think everything we do kind of is just a natural thing. We never really think too much about what we're doing and we don't even discuss it that much. I guess we never decided on any certain song we want to play," he said.
"It was just more like we met up and started to play, and it was already there. It just sounded the way it sounds today. Of course, we're constantly evolving it. That's just a natural process."
The group recently finished demonstrating its onstage prowess during a 13-date tour of the United States and Canada. The outing, its second in North America, welcomed warm, capacity crowds at theatres and clubs across the country. The group fills its yearly touring schedule with regular jaunts around Europe and the United Kingdom.
Live performances weren't a priority at the outset of the band seven years ago, Holm said.
"When we started out, we didn't really play at night. We did maybe three gigs per year or something like that. We just played for ourselves," he said. "Then we started to record. After we recorded our first album we started to play a little bit more, but it wasn't that much more. I mean, instead of three gigs per year it was going to be six."
Sigur Ros has established itself firmly in the Icelandic music scene, which is one of the most bustling music communities in the world. Considering the band ranks second only to Björk as the most popular Icelandic artist, Sigur Ros' recognition is bound to grow worldwide. In the States, the group has found cracking the music market "easy."
"It's been really easy, actually. We haven't really done anything. The thing with us, also, is that we never expect anything and we never really try anything, except make good music for ourselves," Holm said.
"Like I said, in the beginning when we started out, we were just in a rehearsing space writing songs, and we never played live or anything. So we still have that same attitude: We're just writing the songs for ourselves, but we really enjoy playing them. We never really tried to sell our music anywhere else or become popular. It all kind of just happened by itself. It's quite nice." Pull quote: "We never really tried to sell our music anywhere else or become popular. It all kind of just happened by itself."
(cover photo by Marcy Guiragossian)