The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

QUICK SPINS: Sigur Rós, Japandroids

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 20, 2012 6:20PM

SigurRosValtari.jpg Sigur Rós

It’s appropriate that the first official album Sigur Rós has put out in four years begins with the sound of a person taking a deep breath. Coming off an extended break, the band sounds refreshed, reenergized, and intent on moving forward with a sound that marries the old and new. Don’t be mistaken; This is still the Sigur Ros we’ve always known. But whereas the last two albums have moved them away from the loose soundscapes of old and towards warmer, shorter, and poppier fare, Valtari combines the two in a seamless transition and, in turn, produces one of the band’s strongest efforts to date.

The sound makes sense for anyone familiar with Jónsi & Alex, frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s side-project with his partner, Alex Somers. Somers mixed Valtari and the similarities are evident; while the songs here stretch into full soundscapes, creeping forward into looping, beautiful sprawls, reminiscent of the band’s early albums, the songs are also densely layered. Where sparseness was the connective tissue between the layers of those earlier songs, chimes, strings, piano, and choirs weave amongst the instruments and Jónsi’s vocal on Valtari, creating gorgeous, sepia-toned tapestries like “Ekki Múkk.” The band also isn’t afraid to go back to their familiar arrangements, like the slow crescendo that explodes into a cacophony on “Varúð.” Sure, the band has made this a trademark, but when they can still pull of results this good, that hardly matters; there’s comfort in the sound even as the song is new.

But the second half, while still thematically in line with the first half, becomes more solemn than anything the band has produced, thanks to the hymn-like “Dauðalogn” and the following trio of instrumentals that close the album. The angelic “Varðeldur” sounds like a cut straight from the Jónsi & Alex album while the title track swells as it glides along in a dreamy haze. The closer, “Fjögur piano” is another elegant instrumental that languidly unfolds, lulling the listener to a gentle close. It’s a fitting end to an album that builds its best moment of warmth and grace, showing the band is nowhere near ending, as had been rumored during the break between albums and Jónsi’s solo efforts, but rather one getting a second wind, both physically and creatively, and showing they’re far from out of steam.

Sigur Rós plays Lollapalooza on Sunday, August 5 at 4 p.m.

japandroids-celebration-rock.jpg Japandroids
Celebration Rock

Clocking in at 35 minutes over eight songs, Celebration Rock, the sophomore full length from Vancouver duo Japandroids (David Prowse and Brian King) ups the ante over their acclaimed 2009 debut, Post-Nothing, a muscular album of unabashed, soaring guitar rock begging to be played loud enough to shake your home’s foundations. There's more polish on Celebration Rock than Post-Nothing but that suits the album just fine. Opener "The Nights Of Wine And Roses" begins with the sound of fireworks exploding along with a thundering drum beat and then launches into a triumphant sing a long, punctuated by the scream "We yell like hell to the heavens." The entire album has a "living in the moment" feel, like the chorus on "Adrenaline Nightshift," Prowse and King declaring, "There's no high like this / Adrenaline nightshift" in a moment that would make Craig Finn jealous. And if there’s any justice in the world, “The House That Heaven Built” will be the indie rock summer jam of 2012 that builds to a brilliant climax: chugging guitars, a sing-a-long chorus, and the brilliant lyrical mix of youthful exuberance and embracing the fleeting, the screaming chorus, "When they love you (and they will) / Tell ’em all they’ll love in your shadow / and if they try to slow me down (slow me down) / I'll tell ’em all to go to hell." While the aptly named "Continuous Thunder" closes the album, "House" is the peak of the album that charges full steam ahead, no looking back, and embraces what ever it encounters full on.

Japandroids play Lincoln Hall tomorrow night, 9 p.m., 21+, $15, sold out