Sound: Von is the very first album by Icelandic post rockers Sigur Rós. It took 2 years to record, and the finished songs took a significant change to the planned originals. The band contemplated scrapping the whole project and starting over, but decided against it. It was released in 1997 to moderate acclaim in their native Iceland, but was almost unnoticed internationally.
01. "Sigur Rós": the opening and eponymous track is a sparse and chilling one. It consists of very little; mainly brooding background synth, long echoes and the sounds of piercing screaming. The song is almost 10 minutes long, and can get quite tedious.
02. "Dögun": "Dögun" carries over from the previous track, but immediately after transforms into a lighter song. Angelic singing takes over from the screaming, and the tense atmosphere of Sigur Rós melts away. Rain and distortion is heard towards the end of the track. But again, rather sporadic and empty.
03. "Hún Jörð...": again, carries over from the previous track. Distortion fluctuates and then gives way to another completely different sound; slow bass, slow cymbal tapping and Sigur Rós' trademark falsetto singing. The song gradually progresses into something heavier and frantic (especially the chorus), with distortion guitars slowly starting to dominate. The final part of the song is a furious crescendo of screaming and feedback, before stopping abruptly. A much better song, plenty of feeling and depth.
04. "Leit Að Lífi": stringed instruments fluctuate in and out, and a voice gradually fills the song, neatly leading onto the next track.
05. "Myrkur": a very shoegazey, poppy track reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine or Cheap Trick at times. Melodic, uplifting and charismatic; a highlight of the album.
06. "18 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás": literally meaning "18 seconds 'til sunrise," this track is 18 seconds of silence.
07. "Hafssól": a calming song with an underlying energy (in the form of a quiet, low distortion). The vocals consist of high, choir-like chanting, with the distortion going on in the background. The pace gradually quickens half way through this 12 and a half minute track, into a nonsense of organs and noise at the end. In this track, Georg uses a drumstick to play his bass.
08. "Veröld Ný Og Óð": the start is a percussion pattern, getting "cracklier" as the song progresses, with noises coming in at different points. It's hard to describe what's going on in this song, it sounds like an outtake of "Revolution 9."
09. "Von": the title track is my personal favourite. Slow bongo like drums start the track off, with the trademark cello-bowed guitar coming in with its long, sedate notes. Alleviating falsetto singing and a calming, rhythmic acoustic guitar accompany the song. A very laid back, brilliant song; The ultimate chillout.
10. "Mistur": a nonsense track (I use the term "nonsense" for lack of a better adjective, and I consider it an admirable one) consisting of random noises and what sound like bells.
11. "Syndir Guðs (Opinberun Frelsarans)": more bowed guitars and long notes. A slow, relaxing song. The theme doesn't change throughout.
12. "Rukrym": the beginning of the final track is silence. The silence lasts for over 6 minutes before a snippet of "Myrkur" is played backwards (hence the name "Rukrym"). It actually sounds surprisingly good and ties the album together nicely, finishing on a good note. // 7
Lyrics: Four songs on the album contain lyrics: "Hún Jörð...," "Myrkur," "Hafssól" and "Syndir Guðs (Opinberun Frelsarans)." I haven't been able to find lyrics translated from Icelandic into English for anything other than "Myrkur" (even then it's pretty rough). It should be worth noted that the "Von" is the first Sigur Rós track to feature "Vonlenska," a gibberish language made up of phonetics that best suit the music. Vonlenska will be used extensively throughout their later work. From a singer's point of view, Jón Þór Birgisson is a very talented one. His trademark falsetto isn't as honed as it sounds in future recordings, but nonetheless still incredible. // 7
Overall Impression: Personally, I do enjoy this album but every other Sigur Rós fan I talk to dislikes it. You really have to listen to it as an album though, start to finish. The thing I like about it, personally, is its simplicity. I think its emptiness is charming.
Overall, I think it's very obvious the band weren't too happy with the finished product. "Von" isn't the best of starts, but nevertheless I feel it is a staple part of their discography. I see this as more of an experimental album than anything, and can see how Sigur Rós have expanded on the experience of Von to create their next albums, particularly "Ágætis Byrjun."
Without learning from mistakes, how are we to advance? I think the closing lines of "Ágætis Byrjun" (on the subject of "Von") say it perfectly:
We sit down excited, listen to ourselves play in rhythm to the music / but the sound wasn't good / we were all in agreement / we will do better next time / this is a good beginning. // 7