#92 Sigur Rós: Takk
Since 2001's Ágætis Byrjun, Sigur Rós has been swooping down from the clouds, quickly brushing the tops our heads, and leaving us all in wonder. The mystery surrounding this Icelandic quartet is rooted in their homeland, an island so foreign to most that fantastical thoughts begin to create its image - a landscape blanketed in the whitest snow and lakes as warm and soothing as morning tea. And, it must inhabit the most beautiful people that frolick in that snow, that bathe in those lakes, and dance on into the evenings. After a while, though, the mystery began to fade. With 2002's ( ), an undeniably beautiful album, Sigur Rós all together halted their swoops from space and settled on their clouds as our wonderment dwindled. It was a lovely record, but a safe play, one that seemed to be the beginning of an endless plateau. But, in 2005, the clouds began to thunder, and Sigur Rós was woken from their peaceful slumber. The air was frigid and a fire needed to be lit. So, they marched down from the heavens and brought us their strongest piece of work to date, Takk.
Takk employed the same signature elements that has always made Sigur Rós so unique and intriguing - bowed guitars, spatial movements, and Jónsi Birgisson's breathtaking falsetto. However, from the clouds above the glacial peaks, the band emerged with fire in their hands and hearts. They brought the percussion out from underneath the snow to carry rhythms in and out of shoegaze. Guitars drove in hard like hail. Jonsi sang with a fiery vivacity that melted snowcaps and flooded the lakes. From the first track, "Glosoli", you can tell that there was a call to arms. The bass line drove in like a tank and the percussion depicted Sigur Rós marching in, melting the snow beneath their feet. From there, we were taken on the same whimsical journey that Sigur Rós had always led, but one that sparked more wonder and dug much deeper. Takk was an album that was blatantly Sigur Rós, but, at the same time, completely different from the Sigur Rós we knew. It was stronger and more emotional. It still fluttered like white dove wings, but swooped in like eagle talons. And, once again, we were left looking to the heavens, gazing at the stars and clouds, trying to catch a glimpse of these enchanting beings.
#83 múm - Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK
When we named múm #93 out of our top 100 bands of the decade, we reflected on their curious take on electronic music - how listening to their discography feels like watching old home movies cut through with glitches, tape hiss and nearly imperceptible melting around the edges of the screen. Though the mode is rough, the message still points to a simpler, more youthful time. Yesterday Was Dramatic - Today is OK is the VHS tape around which we most frequently gather, the one that portrays everything just so. It is slated to be their only appearance on our top 100 albums list, but "Finally We Are No One" and "Summer Make Good" were crushingly close candidates. Ultimately, Yesterday Was Dramatic won out because it was darker and stranger than its sisters - because it portrays, more acutely, the tension that swells behind (and eventually swarms) an innocent thing.
I'm especially enamored with the way every track seems to hold hands, in rather sinister ways, with its immediate neighbors. There's an innate coupling which kicks off at the transition from "I'm 9 Today" into "Smell Memory". The former is a wondrous, blurry-eyed birthday, an idealized recollection of the past. But the sudden squelches and frank, tangled-up strings of "Smell Memory" sweep in and trample the daydream, kicking off one of the best long-form electronic songs I've ever heard. Smell Memory cuts to an upbeat revelation halfway through, as if it wishes to make reparations for kicking a nine-year-old to the dirt on his birthday - high, bubbly sines mean that all is well. It's this sort of clutch-and-release that permeates the album - though, strangely, the tension builds in the innocent bits, as if we know what's young will never last and we're waiting for the music to come to the same realization. This happens again between "Asleep on a Train" - a dreamy, odd, roaming ride - and "Awake on a Train", where the opening drums recall the too-loud rattling of tracks, where the thin synthesizer points an arrow to a place you don't want to go, and all of it recalls the strange sensation of being conscious and helpless on a predetermined course of travel. This duality is all over, and it's the stark ups and downs that inject this record with a satisfying variety - and, ultimately, a more mature allure than anything else múm put out. Yesterday Was Dramatic was the effort where everything came together, and for that reason it lands on the list as one of the top 100 albums of this decade.