14 Years Ago: Sigur Ros’ ‘Agaetis Byrjun’ Album Released
‘Ágætis Byrjun,’ Sigur Rós’ second album, took a few turns on its way to becoming one of the most mesmerizing records of the past 15 years. It was originally released on June 12, 1999, in the band’s native Iceland. The following year, it was released in the U.K. Following a massive amount of buzz, and support from forward-thinking artists like Radiohead, the album finally received a U.S. release in 2001. And that’s when it's legend grew.
When Sigur Rós released their debut album, ‘Von,’ in 1997, nobody was really paying attention, not even their fellow Icelanders. Even ‘Ágætis Byrjun’’s release was met with a collective shrug. But then word started getting out about the great music – a combination of hazy dream-pop set down in the middle of a post-rock landscape that sounded more like something from another planet than something from another country – and ghostly lyrics, which were mostly in Icelandic, though some were in a totally made-up language called Hopelandic.
That’s when ‘Ágætis Byrjun’ and Sigur Rós took off. Over the next few years, its songs became integral parts of the cultural landscape, showing up in movies like ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’ and inspiring bands from all over the world to explore brave new worlds of ethereal soundscapes, artsy song structures and tracks that feel their way through 10 minutes of buzzes, hisses and bowed guitar chords that often recall titanic beasts migrating to their final resting place.
‘Ágætis Byrjun’ unspools like a 70-minute journey into foreign territory. Individual pieces – ‘Svefn-g-englar,’ ‘Ný batterí’ and ‘Viðrar’ vel til loftárása,’ particularly -- stand out, but the album is best taken in all at once. It ended up reaching No. 1 in Iceland and just missing the Top 50 in the U.K. It didn’t chart in the U.S., though the band finally had a Top 10 album in the States last year with ‘Valtari.’ But its influence is monumental. Not that too many bands are capable of doing what Sigur Rós do. However, the feeling of hope and discovery it brings is universal.