Sigur Rós — Ágætis Byrjun

Bad Taste · Smekkleysa |
Frigid warmth
Yowling whales
Firm gentleness
· · ·

The further north of the equator you go, the stranger the music you encounter. The fairly palatable modes of Mexico and the Mediterranean soon give way to pastoral English folk, and before you know it you've arrived at the frankly bizarre latitudes of Inuit throat singing. Iceland is girt by the world's most frigid waters, and yet is a rich source of musical diversity — the country that birthed both Viking metal and Björk also bestowed upon us the gift of Sigur Rós.

It seems fruitless to resort to tawdry labels such as 'ambient' or 'post-rock.' The sheer breadth and depth of sound that Sigur Rós create defies classification. The constant pumping of continuo, the gently brushed drums, the arcs of string and guitar are all looped together with Jón Þór Birgisson's otherworldly yowling at once reminiscent of whales and cats.

Be they feline or cetacean? Or some visitor from another plane? Nobody could say. But thanks to Sigur Rós, Iceland remains a crucible of musical innovation.