First Impression: Jonsi – Go

by mikeflanagan1

Very few contemporary musicians can get away with dressing like a bird and recording completely over-the-top orchestral music as a side project…especially when that contemporary musician is releasing said over-the-top orchestral music that is more extreme than and separate from his main band, Sigur Ros.

And even fewer can prepare to release such a collection without so much as an utterance of critical skepticism. With Go, Sigur Ros frontman spreads his wings (literally) and whets whatever creative taste buds he couldn’t satisfy with his day job (a scary thought, given Sigur Ros’s catalogue). The album, which was, in its inception, described as “acoustic,” is, as evidenced by his performance for Radio WYNC, borderline unrecognizable from whatever version of the album Jonsi must be hearing in his head. Seemingly omnipotent composer Nico Muhly’s arrangements swallow every acoustic instrument in sight, a style with which Jonsi is familiar and heavily associated.

Upon first listen, Go reads a lot like a Sigur Ros album: You remember how the songs make you feel more so than specific moments, phrases, and hooks. But make no mistake, they are there. It makes you want to listen over and over every time you get in your car in the morning and go to sleep at night…you want to get to know the songs and pick apart why they make you feel how they made you feel the first time you heard them. And by the time you’ve done that, you feel something completely different but even more beautiful.

But Jonsi’s individual influence shines through in a very obvious but can’t-put-your-finger-on-it kind of way. The songs are distinctly his work in that he exerts and even embodies a sense of frantic positivity that even Sigur Ros merely brushes on. With opening track “Go Do,” for example, Jonsi’s tribal bass drum pulses along with butterfly-wing flutes in a way that almost possesses you to do something meaningful, although you don’t know what because you can’t understand his words.

That’s the beauty of Jonsi’s music. Although he sings all the songs in English, it’s almost all indistinguishable from “hopelandic.” But perhaps that is a good thing (see “All Alright“). Jonsi’s music, with Sigur Ros, Riceboy Sleeps, and now under his own name, has always spoken for itself and penetrated human emotions better without decipherable lyrics. Elaborate strings, whisping woodwinds, passionate drums, and Jonsi’s signature emotion-soaked falsetto speak louder than words.

If there’s one thing that struck me on my first listen, besides everything I’ve mentioned already, it’s the closing track, “Henglias.” Reminiscent, in different ways, of both Sigur Ros album-closing tracks “Heysatan” and “All Alright,” the song is water-logged with low-end strings, only to be wrung out by Jonsi’s unmistakable, whistle-like croon. If this song doesn’t make me cry at some point in my life, I’ll know I missed something.

Go will be released internationally starting the week of April 5. It’s an essential addition to any Sigur Ros fan’s collection.