Released: June 12, 1999
Label: Fat Cat, Smekkleysa
Number Of Tracks: 10
"Ágætis Byrjun" was recorded between the summer of 1998 to the spring of 1999 with producer Ken Thomas, and became Sigur Rós's breakthrough album, both critically and commercially.
sigur_ros6, on october 10, 2008 4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Sound: Recorded in the band's infamous swimming pool studio in Iceland, "Ágætis Byrjun" is a pure masterpiece. Running 73 minutes long, "Ágætis Byrjun," which means an alright start, deals with matters of life, death, afterlife and rebirth. Jonsi uses a cello bow for most of the songs creating an atmospheric ambience that is haunting and beautiful; complimented perfectly by beautiful piano melodies and string accompaniments. On top of all of this is Jonsi's singing. Since he primarily sings in a very high falsetto the vocals sound more like another instrument than a traditional singer.
This CD has many very interesting elements to it that you wouldn't expect. For example, the intro track is a riff from the song "Svefn-G-Englar", which means angels or sleepwalkers, reversed. Likewise, the last song on the CD, "Avalon," is a riff from the title track "Ágætis Byrjun," slowed down. In the song, "Ný Batterí," Orri, the drummer, uses a cymbal which he found on the side of the road. A car had run over the cymbal and this gave the cymbal a very clashy quality which suites the song. In the song "Hjartad Hamast" the band experiments with a funky bass line and a harmonica, creating a truly unique Sigur Ros song. // 10
Lyrics: Unlike most of the Sigur Ros albums, "Ágætis Byrjun" has actual lyrics for the majority of their songs instead of the usual "Hopelandish" which is a completely fictional language Jonsi made up. These lyrics, however, are meaningful and match the songs perfectly. Most notably in the song "Svefn-G-Englar," Jonsi says, "I explode out and the piece is no more, I cry, I cry disconnected."
Vocally this CD is incredible. Jonsi's otherworldly voice soars with great intensity and tenderness. Even if you can't quite understand what he is saying, you can feel it through the passion that he sings with. Considering that Jonsi only became the singer of Sigur Ros because no one else could sing is astonishing. Jonsi's unparalleled falsetto's melt perfectly with the band and are absorbed in the ethereal bliss that is Sigur Ros. // 10
Overall Impression: "Ágætis Byrjun" launched the band to worldwide recognition and this is still one of their best albums to date. With tracks like the mournful yet optimistic "Svefn-G-Englar," and the calm and peaceful title track, "Ágætis Byrjun," this band established itself as leaders in post-rock music. The wall of ambient feedback produced is nostalgic of wind in rustling through the trees, or waves crashing on the shore. The music is beautiful, haunting, dismal, and optimistic all at once. Ironically the last lyrics on the CD are, "We sit down, excited, listen to ourselves play the music... But it didn't sound good, we were all in agreement. We'll do better next time. This is an alright start." This is much more than an alright start, it is an incredible album, and a must have for Sigur Ros fans, or post-rock fans in general. // 10
gitarzero89, on october 10, 2008 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: After 50+ years of being a genre, you'd think that every sound and style that could be achieved within rock music would have been done already. Decades of refinement, plus significant sonic innovation in the '80s and '90s left little room to move forward. Hell, bands like Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk, the Talking Heads, et al. Were making "futuristic music" back in the '70s. Thirty years later, there really isn't left that can be described as "forward-thinking." But Sigur Ros are not a "forward-thinking" band. Their music predates anything that could be considered "rock" - or even "alternative." They're thinking back to the age of strings, harps, piano, orchestral bombast. And it still sounds more futuristic than anything Angels And Airwaves or 30 Seconds To Mars are doing.
A short intro opens the album, providing travel music for the voyage to this distant world. Once you migrate through the pings and muted organ of the first minute of "Svefn-G-Englar," you are welcomed by a massive wall of bowed guitar, sounding like a distorted whale's call harmonizing with a horn section. The twinkling piano and sweeping violin of "Staralfur," the pounding cymbals of "Ný Batterí," the melodic bassline of "Olsen Olsen," all float within a wispy atmosphere of ambient noise. And Jón Birgisson's voice, at times more instrumental than vocal, is rarely anything short of angelic.
While the world of "Ágætis Byrjun" is cohesively beautiful, there's also a lot of diversity here, stylistic and emotional. The intro of "Hjarta Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm)" blends jazzy keyboard and drums with bluesy harmonica and bowed guitar before morphing into a chorus of soaring strings and vocal harmonies. The blissful grandeur of the climax of "Olsen Olsen" is a sharp contrast to the dark and dramatic "Ný Batterí." The album is consistent in sound, yet holistically presents a wide spectrum of emotion. // 10
Lyrics: Quick point - unless you have an Icelandic dictionary lying about your house (or are from Iceland, of course), you're just simply not going to understand the lyrics on this album. Thankfully, you don't really need to. Jónsi Birgisson's voice is just another instrument here, and it's probably the most potent weapon in their arsenal. His falsetto soars on "Ný Batterí" and "Olsen Olsen." On the latter he sings in his trademark gibberish language of Vonlenska ("Hopelandic"). The vocals on "Svefn-N-Englar" are so beautifully out-of-this-world that you'll wonder if they're even human, and he particularly outdoes himself on "Ný Batterí" and "Olsen Olsen." Even when you can't understand him, Birgisson carries so much emotion that you'll need no further explanation. // 9
Overall Impression: "Ágætis Byrjun" is definitive proof that it is possible to look back and move forward. Here, Sigur Ros take classical ideas and instruments and make something startlingly new and fresh, winding up with what remains, even against "Takk..." and "( )," their best album. The album packs so many emotions, sounds, experiences and other bits of life into it's 72 minutes that it's really it's own world - and an expansive one at that. This is music at it's largest and purest. Words on a page cannot do it justice - you have to hear "Ágætis Byrjun" for yourself. // 10