Visitors to Iceland will no doubt be acutely aware as to just how closely correlated the country's sparse, volcanic and almost outer-worldly landscape is with the music of one of its biggest musical exports, Sigur Rós.
Like very few other bands, the four-piece seem to act as catalysts for the spectacular Nordic landscape, making deeply dramatic, emotional music which captures both the inherent beauty and inherent loneliness of their under-populated homeland.
It's interesting, then, that their fifth and most commercially targeted album to date is also their first not to be entirely written and recorded in Iceland. Stints in New York and London's Abbey Road studios were taken to form an album which, stylistically, marks a greater leap away from their initial works. They even sing in English on the album's final track.
As has been their progress over their last two albums, 'Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust' sees the four-piece cultivate a more full-bodied sound away from their ethereal, minimalist work of past. On tracks such as the magnificent 'Við Spilum Endalaust (We Play Endlessly)' and lead single 'Gobbledigook', traditional acoustic guitar melodies are used to form joyful, bouncy songs which are essentially folk in quality, while injected with that epic quality the Icelandic band are so associated with. As the cover suggests, the band are in more playful form here, utilising less strings than previous outings, making broader and less isolated brush strokes across their musical canvas.
That's not to say they haven't abandoned the long, lonely, minimalist laments of past. 'Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust (With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly)' is a record of two halves. Minimalist laments dominate the album's closing half, and, if anything, they've freshened-up their take on this style, making these tracks even more epic sounding in quality, while bringing new feeling.
'Festival' begins typically as one might expect a Sigur Rós track to before building furiously as guitar and then a creeping pounding drum beat come crashing within warm euphoric strings. One of the album's highlights, it's one of a number of tracks which should sound immense live.
Sparse epic territory is again treaded in 'Ára Bátur', one of the most beautiful pieces today as lead singer Jónsi Birgisson's falsetto vocal seems to float over a delicate piano track. It marks the start of the album's more trademark Sigur Rós section.
'Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust (With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly)' marks a new chapter for Sigur Rós, and one in which they've begun to push themselves harder as a band. Not only was the record written and partly recorded outside of their safety zone, but they also imposed a gruelling deadline upon themselves.
Abandoning all previous half-written tunes, the group took it upon themselves to only begin writing the record in January of this year, and to have the finished product arranged, recorded, mastered, mixed and in stores by the time they hit the festival trail in June. Six months (this is the reason why the record's packaging is flimsy - a 'deluxe version' will be released in September). Given how great and how progressive sounding (for them) the record is, it's a remarkable achievement.
Sigur Rós fans will delight in 'Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust (With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly)', while those yet to be captivated by this wonderful band couldn't pick a finer, nor more accessible, starting point.