EMI – 2005 – 65 minutes

Three years ago, the second album of an Icelandic music outfit that defied categorisation was eagerly anticipated among music fans of a certain kind. Sigur Ros emerged as if from the depths of an Icelandic winter with '( )', an album that didn't really have a title and contained 10 tracks with no names, mostly sung in a language they invented themselves.

And yet unlike many a concept album, '( )' was endearing in that it was full of dark, ethereal, ponderous tunes that rounded out as cathartic experiences for the listener.

Though it also didn't do any harm to the profile of another Icelandic band, Múm, which around the same time put out their second record 'Finally We Are No One', an album of similar experimentalist bent to Sigur Ros but in a happier vein.

Sigur Ros' latest album 'Takk...' brings us from a title with two punctuation marks to one with a monosyllabic Icelandic word and an ellipse. The songs all have track names and are mostly sung in an actual language, namely Icelandic. Progress, you could say, though of course it's not necessary to understand Icelandic any more than it is possible to understand 'Hopelandish' (that's the made up language) in order to appreciate Sigur Ros' music.

The album opens with a title track that is more an introduction to the album than a song in its own right. It burns slowly, and shimmers like the long intro to U2's 'Where the Streets Have No Name'.

'Glósóli' is one of the record's highlights, featuring a masterful display of vocal harmony accompanied by marching beats before a crescendo full of smashing beats and loud guitar chords, and then ending with the innocent twinkle of a music box, a sound heard several times across the record.

'Hoppípolla' is the album's most outstanding track. It's a pop song that's centred around a gorgeous piano motif Chris Martin should be jealous of, and takes in a triumphant-sounding brass and strings. The two-minute 'Meo Blódnasir' that follows acts like a coda to it, featuring a piano line echoing the previous one and more swirling harmonies.

Many of the other songs here take a similar route to 'Glósóli', starting off gentler and more vocal-driven before coming to emphatic, defiant endings. An exception is 'Sé Lest', which has a bright, carefree conclusion that sounds like a theme from a fairground ride.

Some of the later tracks on the album are slower and darker, more like this album's parenthetical predecessor. Closer 'Heysátan' is in especially plaintive mood, as if to warn that another winter is approaching. Let's hope it's a milder, more comprehensible winter than the last and is soon followed by a glorious collection of sunnier tunes such as this one.

Bill Lehane

Tracklisting: Takk... – Glósóli – Hoppípolla – Meo Blódnasir – Sé Lest – Saeglopur – Milano – Gong – Andvari – Svo Hljott – Heysátan