Even in most of the warmest states in the US trees are losing their leaves and an icy chill is in the air. We are in the dead of winter. What better time than now to fully appreciate Sigur Rós’ amazing documentary and concert album, Inni? Since the beginning their sound has been tied strongly to the ruggedly beautiful and frigid landscapes of their native Iceland, and this concert is no exception as it positively radiates beauty.
Since gaining critical acclaim in 1999 for their sophomore album Ágætis byrjun, the band has been a mainstay in the music world, inspiring millions with their unique brand of otherworldly atmospherics. With each album they have built on their incredible talents, reaching into different sounds yet retaining the core elements that have made the band such a vital force. This performance finds them striking a perfect balance between dreamy Pink Floyd-like melodies and cacophonous post-rock sounds of Mogwai. In short, it captures your heart, mind and imagination.
The concert was recorded at the end of their 2008 tour for the band’s most down to earth album yet, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. The performance focuses on tracks from the aforementioned album, but does a good job of mixing up the set with songs from all releases except for their first, Von. All of the songs flow wonderfully and despite being from separate albums, each has evolved with every tour and classics like “Ny Batteri” and “Svefn-g-g-englar” sound familiar, yet fresh with a new metallic buzz and immediacy their ethereal studio version lacked. The songs from the oft-overlooked and underrated ( ) also take on a new life here and sound better than any previous version. Personally, Takk never reached the heights of their other albums, but after hearing the splendid reworking of those tracks here, it makes this writer inclined to go back and explore that album with renewed vigor.
Sigur Ros’ Popplagio
The whole affair builds to a dizzying climax with a near-fifteen minute version of “”Popplagið” where reverb echoes chaotically as lead singer Jonsi wails and thrashes at his guitar like a man possessed with confetti raining from the sky. To ease listeners down from the edges of ecstasy the album concludes with the solitary new track in the bunch, “Lúppulagið,” a subtle and hauntingly beautiful song that stands in sharp contrast to the majority of the material on this album, perhaps hinting at the future direction of the band. After all, it has been reported that this is a document of the last time the band will be seen and heard with this sound, desiring to go in a completely different direction next time.
A key component of this release that must be discussed is the accompanying DVD of the live performance. Truncated compared to the CD version, it clocks in at around 75 minutes but packs just as much punch if not more thanks to the comparative brevity. Directed and filmed by Vincent Morisset, known for his Arcade Fire performance DVD Mirror Noir, the movie shares similar lo-fi aesthetic choices with his previous endeavor. This time these are taken to the extreme. The concert is completely in black and white, with high contrast ratio and plenty of grainy texture to give it an vintage feel. Thankfully the editing is organic and flows with the music in a languid way, quite opposite of the ADD fast-cuts of more modern MTV-era concert films. As an artistic statement it works, as the not quite real-looking concert images fit with the heady music being performed, creating a dream-like experience. The downside of this however, is if you wanted something a little more “real” or like experiencing them live, it might not live up to expectations since this is a stylized and distorted image of what concert-goers saw. But this has never been a band deeply rooted in realism, so if this is to be the final testament to this era of the band, it works wonderfully. Lo-fi picture also means that purchasing the blu-ray version of this is questionable, since it does nothing to improve the highly distorted picture. The true draw of the blu-ray version is 5.1 HD audio soundtrack. If you’ve got the setup to appreciate this, by all means get it, but if not, stick with the cheaper 2CD + DVD.
One last thing that many may wonder about this release: since the fantastic documentary Heima, was already released in 2007, just how essential is the release? Are they similar and somewhat of a double-dip except for the newer songs? The answer is a definitive no. Heima and Inni are completely different entities, existing in their own separate universes. Heima focused on the beauty of the Icelandic landscape to convey the emotion of the band, focusing less on them as individual players. It was always vivid and colorful and the expanse of the landscape was palpable despite the relative intimacy of the performances. Inni is quite different. The focus is completely on the band and their performance; despite being in a large venue the relative darkness and amount of close-ups make this feel like the loudest intimate performance one could ever experience in the comfort of your living room.
Even casual fans should not hesitate to pick up this incredible testament to one of the most unique bands and gorgeous music being played today. While there may be very little that’s new here, it is a breathtaking celebration of everything that makes Sigur Rós great. As ice and snow surround us this winter, play this set as the perfect accompaniment for those quiet moments—let your mind travel to a truly stunning soundscape.
By Jarad Matula