A music critic for the British magazine Melody Maker wrote of the Sigur Rós album Agaetis byrjun (roughly translated, "A Good Beginning") as the sound of "god crying golden tears in heaven." Indeed, listening to this Icelandic quartet's premiere domestic release is something of an emotional adventure. Recorded with Ken Thomas, who's previously worked with the Sugarcubes, Agaetis byrjun seems to capture and communicate the ambience of the stark, weathered tundra of Sigur Rós' homeland.
The album opens with Jonsi's beautiful soprano voice, one of the outstanding characteristics of the band's sound, recorded over a backward track; serving to capture and foreshadow the sounds and feel of the tracks to come. "Svefn-g-englar," the next song, opens with synthesized vibraphone tones mixed with slow organ notes, gently segueing into the sound of bowed electric guitar. (Jonsi uses a cello bow--a recurring technique that defines the album's sound, creating a distorted, ghostly sound like wind ripping across an arctic plain.) Jonsi's voice compliments this sound with a sweetness that could be likened to the fabled music of the spheres.
The band's signature studio technique of recording the drum and bass tracks first, then layering everything else on afterward, is esrything else on afterward, is esst," which builds by adding harmonica, a string orchestra, and organ working to produce a stunning result.
Sigur Rós' contract with MCA stipulates that they have no obligation to record songs in any other language but their own. Consequently, unless the listener understands Icelandic, the band's ideas can only be interpreted through their sound, but Sigur Rós' music translates into emotion with an electrifying grace.