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[XL Recordings; 2010]

By ; April 6, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

To fully appreciate Go, it’s important to return to its origins. Originally conceived as an entirely solo, acoustic release, somewhere along the line, perhaps as a result of serendipity, Jónsi gathered together a few very talented people (producer Peter Katis, arranger Nico Muhly, and percussionist Samuli Kosminen) and Go metamorphosed into a largely orchestrated affair. A stylistic shift this large would normally indicate a lack of focus, and it would be natural to have some trepidation as a result. Wasn’t this the kind of stuff Jónsi has always written? And was this change even for the better?

Any questions about Jónsi resting on his laurels are answered within the first few seconds of “Go Do”. A stuttering vocal line is soon interrupted by thudding percussion and an understanding of why he saved these songs for a solo release. Despite the sweeping orchestration, Go feels like a much more intimate affair than previous Sigur Rós releases. And while on paper it may look like this is Jónsi relying on what he does well, the truth is that Go sounds refreshing and exciting — and not at all formulaic.

Another thing Go has going for it is how impeccable its arrangements are. It’s hard to imagine these nine tracks sounding any differently than they do on record. The instrumentation swells and crescendos on some sections and provides a subtle backdrop on others, and the percussion is so delightfully off-kilter (the opening beat on “Go Do” consists of a chorus of suitcases being smacked) and used to such great effect that it’s hard to find fault with the construction of Go’s songs.

Take obvious album highlight “Tornado,” for example. It begins with nothing more than piano chords and Jónsi’s voice; these are soon joined by swelling strings, which in turn give way to an explosion of percussion. Each element is perfectly placed, and although this is a CD under Jónsi’s name, it’s not ludicrous to assert that Go wouldn’t be half the record it is were it not for the brilliant collaborators. That’s not to take anything away from Jónsi; his vision is present in every note, and there’s not one part of this CD that isn’t distinctly Jónsi.

Really, “Tornado” isn’t alone in the perfection of its arrangement — Go is an album full of “moments”. From the chorus of “Sinking Friendships” to the shift to falsetto in “Kolnidur” to the climax of “Grow Till Tall,” each song has something about it that elevates it from “great” to “something special”. And its short length, although considered a flaw by some, allows Go to twist and turn and still not come anywhere near overstaying its welcome. It manages to be joyous without being cloying, heartbreaking without being heavy-handed, and heartfelt without a hint of affectation. Go is a CD so gorgeous and so satisfying that perhaps its biggest problem is that it brings us one release closer to Jónsi’s retirement.

As part of the publicity surrounding Go, manager John Best wrote a piece where he discusses Go and its formation. He closes his writeup by noting that he “hasn’t felt this excited about a project since the time [he] first heard Agaetis Byrjun”. A lofty compliment for sure, and it’s easy to see why he felt that way. While Go isn’t as groundbreaking as Sigur Rós’ Byrjun, it most definitely plays to Jónsi’s strengths and provides a listen that is consistently thrilling and rewarding.


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