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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Solo career is a ‘go’ For Icelandic rocker

    Jónsi

    go

    XL Recordings

    Grade: B

    Only four months after Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós announced an indefinite hiatus, frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s debut solo album go finds the ethereal singer releasing his best work in five years. After a dicey final group album, Jónsi released last year’s Riceboy Sleeps with his partner, artist Alex Somers. The title was brilliant, as the album’s misuse of ambience provided a welcome sleep aid to all.

    On go, Jónsi returns to the tried-and-true formula that made Sigur Rós an international success: slow builds to huge finales. Merging deafening instrumental heights with dramatic vocalizations, Jónsi’s songs aim to rewrite the definition of “”epic.”” But go also finds Jónsi examining the makings of a new, chaotic sonic palette.

    It’s difficult to put into concrete terms everything that goes on in one of Jónsi’s songs. As a songwriter, his specialty is making the absurd feel distinctly necessary. Electronic blips over strings, coupled with Jónsi’s eunuch-like falsetto pushing at the heavens, all come across as matters of fact.

    The classic sound of Sigur Rós shines on “”Grow Till Tall,”” one of the album’s most controlled songs. Jónsi’s haunting voice draws forward a distant hum of instruments, before seizing the atmosphere and conjuring up a tremendous wave of sound that leaves the listener breathless.

    Jónsi also expands upon the sound of his former band with bold expansions of minimalist sounds. The violent ending of “”Tornado”” is reminiscent of Sigur Rós’ sweeping finales, yet it eschews a glamorous and easy crescendo for an instrumental burst, followed by Jónsi’s murmurings over a silent track. Moments such as these are the highlights of go, as they distinguish Jónsi as a dynamic songwriter capable of pursuing music that does not immediately stick its landing, tending instead to grow upon a pleasantly surprised listener.

    What distinguishes Jónsi’s solo album from being Sigur Rós 2.0 is his seemingly endless array of sonic permutations. Half of the sounds on go are unidentifiable, but remain gorgeous in context. One of the album’s most infectious songs, “”Animal Arithmetic”” fuses the electronic whir of house music with a catchy blend of harmony that can only be called post-pop. It’s as catchy as it is overwhelming.

    If there is a flaw in Jónsi’s work, it’s his sheer propensity to make each song sound like a reinvention of music. There is something admirable about a songwriter pushing the boundaries, but go is exhausting at times. On “”Sinking Friendships,”” Jónsi layers his voice over a chorus of Jónsi clones before swelling into piano and strings. The clash of new-age with classical is cutting edge, but also downright spastic. When Afrobeat drumming joins the mix, the song becomes a punishing exercise in maintaining focus.

    That is not to say that Jónsi’s adventurous songs are unlikable. They just feel too much like the post-rock version of Girl Talk, ADHD mash-ups of Jónsi’s favorite sounds into a soda fountain suicide.

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