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Tony Hillerman, RIP

Music (Video) of the Week: Sigur Rós - Heima

The pronunciation of Sigur Rós seems to be, very roughly: “seeger,” as in Bob Seeger, “rohss”—“o” as in “rose”, “s” as in “toss.” According to the Wikipedia article on the band it means “victory rose,” and is the name of the singer’s baby sister, who was born on the day the band was formed. That tells you something about them: this is not your average rock band, and not even your average indie band.

This is a documentary which opens with these words:

Summer 2006: Having toured the world over, Sigur Ros return home to play a series of free, unannounced concerts in Iceland.

The title means “at home.” The format is pretty simple: images of Iceland and its people interspersed with performances from the concerts and conversations with the band members.

The visuals of Iceland are stunningly beautiful. My wife’s interest in pop music is about as close to zero as it can be without being totally non-existent; measured on a hospital monitor, it would be pronounced dead. (And yes, it is pretty funny that we’re married, but it just goes to show…something or other.) But she watched this with me because she was interested in seeing the pictures of Iceland. Part way through she said “Let’s move there.” Really, it’s that beautiful.

If you haven’t heard any of their music: it consists mostly of long, slow, mysterious compositions that usually start quietly and build to crescendos, sometimes quite noisy ones. They may sound similar to each other on first hearing, but they do grow on you. There are some truly enchanted melodies, perhaps made more so by the singing, which is mostly a single very high-pitched male voice (I guess a lot of it is falsetto). I don’t have any idea what the lyrics are about, as they’re all either in Icelandic or an invented nonsense language called Vonlenska, or Hopelandic. For all I know they could just be singing “oh baby I love you so” over and over again, but the effect is enigmatic.

I don’t want to go on too long here; I only want to recommend this very strongly. But I can’t leave without saying something about the whole atmosphere of the thing. It couldn’t be more different from the phoniness, vulgarity, conventional hipsterism (or simple stupidity, depending on the band), drugginess, and so forth that accompany most rock bands. The concerts are held in all sorts of venues, outdoors and in, and are attended by crowds of the most ordinary-seeming people: yes, there are the young people with green hair, nose rings, etc., but also whole families—middle-aged parents, children, old people. And for the most part the music is something in which they can all find something to enjoy. Some of the most beautiful images in the film are of the faces of people in the audience. And Sigur Rós themselves are almost freakishly unpretentious in conversation; they seem like genuinely decent people without big egos or the generally adversarial stance to the world of ordinary people that so often afflicts artists all across the spectrum. In concert they seem utterly focused on the music; there’s none of the bogus extravagant posing that makes many bands unwatchable to me.

In sum: do yourself a favor and find this. There is a second disk, by the way, which I haven’t seen yet, which I think is straight concert footage. Also by the way, the strings are provided by a string quartet called Amiina, who seem to be interesting in their own right.

Here’s the trailer, which gives you a pretty good taste of what to expect (3:54):

And here is a rather remarkable video. I’m only providing the link, because you need to read the info (click “more info&rdquo to the right of the video box). I don’t entirely understand the story, but…well, like I said, this is not your average rock band. You’ll need a bit of time, as the video is over nine minutes long.



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