Sigur Ros’ songs have a tendency to go on way too long, but the group’s peaks are such that we must cherish them, flaws and all.
Hvarf-Heim is split into two sections: the first (entitled 'Hvarf’, naturally) contains studio versions of previously unreleased tracks, while the second (‘Heim’) includes acoustic versions of material already in the public domain.
Well, to describe the record’s second segment as “acoustic” may be a touch misleading: it is acoustic in the sense that bleary, whale-aping shoegaze guitar and wispy electronic touches are kept to a minimum. It is not acoustic in any fashion that brings to mind one-man-and-his-guitar traditionalism; Sigur Ros’ music is always lavish and expansive, even on these supposedly “low-key” re-interpretations.
‘Heim’ is actually considerably superior to ‘Hvarf’, though it is debatable whether this is down to differences in arrangement and studio treatment. The more obvious explanation may be that the former simply contains stronger tunes: the six re-shaped tracks provide a decent primer for Sigur Ros’ studio releases to date, and the soft, weightless arrangements (mostly based around organ, piano and strings) certainly do not detract from the songs’ considerable melodic strengths.
‘Staralfur’ is the record’s obvious stand-out, though again, one must say that it is not due to the manner of its re-interpretation. The original was a thing of twinkling, nocturnal beauty, and probably represents the group’s high watermark to date. Its gorgeousness is certainly held intact here, though it is debatable whether it is enhanced.
The ‘Hvarf’ section is more hit-and-miss, as it showcases the two extremes (extreme beauty and extreme boredom) of Sigur Ros’ sound. To their detractors, the Icelandic group combine the blandest elements of coffee-table with the most pompous and long-winded aspects of post-rock and shoegaze. This is occasionally true, and on tracks like ‘Von’ and ‘Hafsol’, the listener’s patience is severely tested by the group’s graceless plod towards another pointless guitar crescendo.
Things improve when the group sound as if they are going nowhere, and taking their own sweet time about it. Opening track ‘Salka’ captures Sigur Ros’ essence perfectly: idiosyncratic, perverse, yet as relaxed and easy-on-the-ear as any contemporary chill-out record.
Sigur Ros’ songs – even the good ones – have a tendency to go on way too long, but the group’s peaks are such that we must cherish them, flaws and all.
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