It's 2012. The Democrats have regained control of Congress, nascent life forms have been discovered on the outskirts of the Andromeda galaxy, and the pop charts are dominated by scraggly, European quartets whose ten-minute songs are the least odd thing about them. Surely, the future is strange only in our inability to conceive of it. Sigur Rós, a band that supposedly can conceive of the future (it claims its music is "future pop"), has created a work that -- if not the physical embodiment of the future -- is a welcome respite from the emotionless dribble that usually passes for sublime.
The band's new album, the spectrally titled ( ), is the most beautiful contrary statement of the year. In an age where most music is explicitly stated and packaged, Sigur Rós erects a series of semi-completed canvases in honor of the imagination. They call upon the listener to act as more than a mere information receptacle. Everything -- the untitled tracks, the intentionally ambiguous lyrics, the interminably gray cover art -- is left unattended and begging for completion by the listener. Beyond its conceptual forwardness, ( ) is the perfect manifestation of the loud-to-soft dynamic that most post-rock aspires to but never quite masters. Untitled track number one originates in the effervescent crawl of steam emanating from NYC sewer caps and continues heavenward like a bundle of bright red balloons broken loose from a child's wrist. Untitled track number six continues the push toward the stars; beneath a symphonic wash of ride cymbals and deeply resonant floor toms, it builds into the crest of an enormous wave that crashes repeatedly against descending guitar passages. Lead singer Jón Birgisson uses his partly imagined dialect (affectionately dubbed "Hopelandish") to coat the album in a long stroke of indecipherable wordplay. It's never quite clear what he's singing, but the words you, save, and soul reappear with eerie regularity. His sexless howls are vapor trails, faded signposts dotting the road back through human history, highlighting a moment in our evolution where sounds held as much meaning as words.
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Like whales cavorting in the sea, ( ) consumes you with a startling grace. Its echoes reverberate through the chapped vistas of the Icelandic conscience, through the eclipsed corners of your mind, to that inconceivable future.