Hold on … is that a backbeat thumping behind Sigur Rós singer Jónsi? And not just a backbeat, but a dance beat?
That was my first reaction when I heard "Go Do", the opening track of Jónsi’s solo album Go. Sigur Rós’ previous studio album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, featured some uncharacteristically up-tempo moments but not enough to stretch an entire album.
Jónsi goes further than Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust ever did, piling on thick beats, whimsical orchestration (courtesy of Nico Muhly) and stuttering samples in a beautiful mess of music, buoyed by his distinctive falsetto.
Many tracks start off unassuming before building to a crowded crest. "Sinking Friendships" opens with Jónsi’s wordless vocals and pulsing pianos. It takes a while for the song to take off, but by the end, those vocals and pianos are complemented by strings and percussion.
Xylophone and acoustic guitar give "Boy Lilikoi" a quiet opening before the full band and orchestra come crashing in by the chorus. "Around Us" turns the formula upside down, ending quietly after a strong start.
"Animal Arithmetic" and "Go Do", on the other hand, aren’t as coy, making their quick pace readily apparent.
Jónsi’s writing indulges in the same kind of grandeur as Sigur Rós, and the lush production is reminiscent of Takk…, less on the guitar effects, more on the orchestral flourishes.
Jónsi, it seems, can’t sing in any range other than stratospheric, but his long melodies don’t feel out of place on the more energetic tracks.
When the songs wind down, the gap separating Go from Sigur Rós narrows further, seemingly to please fans. It’s nice, however, to be reminded of where Jónsi’s primary strengths lie. The horns on "Hengilás" could have come from a track on Björk’s Volta album.
Listeners expecting Go to be an extension of Sigur Rós will be surprised to find how different and familiar it feels. The album takes some real chances with a faster pace, giving Jónsi’s voice a refreshing, new context.