'Valtari' is Sigur Ros's sixth studio album and first since 2008's acclaimed 'Med sud eyrum vid spilum endalaust', marking the end of their indefinite hiatus. It is either the album they always wanted to make, or the album they almost didn't make, depending on how you look at it.
Taken together, the eight songs on this 54-minute album feel like an alternative musical path the band didn't take after 2002's untitled '( )' album. Frequently bereft of formal structures, and for large stretches of time more atmospheres than songs, the work -- which the band have described as sounding "like an avalanche in slow motion" -- offers a counterpoint to Sigur Ros's steady yet unconscious migration towards public acceptance (either via 'sound-bed' ubiquity or use as emotional shorthand in this or that movie.) In English, Valtari translates as "steamroller," and there is something right about the title in terms of the process of its creation.
In 2011, the band, alongside mixer Alex Somers, started the painstaking forensic task of piecing together a cohesive and magical work from disparate constituent parts. If this sounds unromantic, the results are anything but. Something alchemical occurs when the four members of Sigur Ros are in the room together, and while Valtari is a more "studio based" album than any of its predecessors (which usually start life as rehearsal room jams), the long hours of experimentation and unsentimental editing have yielded incredible results. Certain songs on the album have roots in earlier times. 'Daudalogn' and 'Vardeldur' emerged out of sessions on the back of Takk. but the choral ideas behind them stem from as far back as 2002 and an orchestral collaboration with the 16 Choir; 2009 sessions in the wake of the last album, Med sud eyrum vid spilum endalaust, threw up some individually beautiful moments -- of which three, 'Rembihnutur', 'Fjogur piano' and 'Valtari', live here -- but it was hard to draw a line between them, and the band found focusing on such elusive music hard to do for any sustained period. And so, they essentially put the record on hold. In 2010, singer Jonsi went off to make, and then tour, his expansive, critically-acclaimed solo album Go, while keyboardist Kjartan spent time on his classically-inclined, unreleased work, 'Credo'. Time slipped by. But then a film scoring opportunity led to the creation of the towering and majestic 'Var d', arguably the record's centerpiece; and shortly thereafter, scouting around for a closing credit song for last year's live film, Inni, the band unearthed 'Luppulagid', which in its reworked choral form is here titled 'Var eldur', one of the album's most understated and elegant songs. And slowly, what had seemed like a collection of isolated-but-interesting recordings, for the first time felt like the viable way towards a strangely cohesive body of work.