10 Best Sigur Ros Songs
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of Sigur Ros as a band, which makes the recent release ‘Kveikur‘ that much more impressive. It’s not often that a group returns to such a high mark of quality after a run of disappointing late-career albums, and while their drop-off has never been dramatic enough to result in a major loss of fans, they’ve rarely matched the grandeur of Ágætis byrjun’ (1999) or ‘( )’ (2002). The rebirth they’ve shown with ‘Kveikur’ means we might be amending this list of the 10 Best Sigur Ros Songs in the future, but for now, let’s remind ourselves why these Icelandic post-rock heroes are such a big deal.
First up on our list of the 10 Best Sigur Ros songs is ‘Ný batterí’ from their second and most beloved album, ‘Ágætis byrjun.’ ‘Ný batterí’ literally means ‘New Batteries,’ and if you translate the Icelandic into English, the darkness of the words is profound. But most people don’t come to Sigur Rós for the lyrics — even when they’re intelligible, they’re sung in Icelandic or Hopelandic, the band’s made-up language — so we focus on the music. The first bit of percussion — heard about four-and-a-half minutes in — is an unforgettable moment that sticks with the listener, and the eventual density of the horns arrangement coupled with the traditional rock instruments helps make this a classic.
The story is that ‘Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’ was originally going to be an English-language album, and that after the idea was scrapped, the lyrics were switched to Icelandic and Hopelandic. But with a title like ‘Festival,’ not to mention the five minutes of elvish falsetto that frontman Jónsi uses as a lead-in to soaring strings, cymbal crashes and general post-rock bliss, the sentiment is conveyed.
At No. 8 on our list of the 10 Best Sigur Ros Songs is ‘Flugufrelsarinn,’ which literally translates to ‘The Fly’s Savior.’ Of all their songs, this is the most vocally dependent, with Jónsi’s fragile yet strong delivery and passionate inflection making the meaning less important than the fact that the audience ends up feeling something.
The title track from Sigur Ros’ seventh LP translates literally to “candlewick,” but nothing about the song is a slow burn. Full of metallic drums and screeching, and a bit of bile in Jonsie’s vocals, the song finds the band reenergized in a way that no one would have guessed. Hard to believe that Kjartan Sveinsson, who left the band before this album, was the problem, but it’s also hard to believe this intensity has been dormant in recent years.
‘Untitled I’ (“Vaka”)
The first track on ‘()’ begins with the faint flick on an on-switch, presumably an amp, or maybe the plugging in of a guitar. It’s such a small detail, but its memorable in a weird way, since you always listen for it when starting ‘Untitled I.’ The band has a nickname for each untitled song on the album, and this one’s is fitting, as ‘Vaka’ is the name of new drummer Orri Páll Dýrason’s daughter, and the closeness is an overwhelming evocation of the song.
‘Starálfur’ will always be known as the song played in ‘The Life Aquatic’ when the crew discovers the jaguar shark. And while that alone makes it No. 5 on our list, the firework-explosions-as-percussion thing is also genius.
You don’t make the kind of cinematic post-rock that Sigur Ros does without knowing a little about drama. That’s why ‘Glósóli’ is usually reserved for the end of their concerts. The song erupts in its conclusion to one of the loudest crescendos any band has ever produced, and while the title refers to the light of the sun, or its glow, ‘Glósóli’ sounds like a supernova. Either way, it’s about heat and energy.
‘Untitled IV’ (“Njósnavélin”)
‘()’ saw Sigur Rós perform an album entirely in Hopelandic, which essentially comprises meaningless sounds similar to the American scat. It is almost hard to believe on ‘Untitled IV,’ as the track is so vocally focused, but the dream-like quality of the song allows for the lack of meaning to essentially add meaning. Funnily enough, the band’s nickname for the track, ‘Njósnavélin,’ means ‘The Nothing Song.’
‘Untitled VIII’ (“Popplagið”)
The nickname for ‘Untitled VIII’ is ‘Popplagið,’ or “The Pop Song,’ and while you might expect to hear the group its catchiest, that’s not the case. The “pop” in question seems to be the explosion that takes place as the song builds steadily and is drawn out longer than any other track on this list. It’s a fitting conclusion to the great album ‘( ),’ and it’s among the finest songs Sigur Ros have written.
Topping our list of the 10 Best Sigur Ros Songs is ‘Svefn-g-englar,’ and regardless of how you feel about the previous nine songs, a single listen to this one will make you remember the sound of Jonsie singing “Tjú” forever. You forget you know it, until you hear it in another room, and it rushes back in a familiar flash. Interestingly, though every other bit of ‘Svefn-g-englar’ is translatable, that one sound — repeated over and over — is just a sound. It might be used to sooth a child, but it is essentially an Icelandic sound that doesn’t mean a thing — except, of course, the way it makes you feel. Sigur Ros mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But isn’t that the key? Tjú.