Album of the Week: Jónsi explores nuanced emotional territory with first solo album

David Preda, Online Arcade Editor

There is no doubt that Icelandic singer Jónsi Birgisson possesses prodigious talent. Most know him from his band Sigur Rós, where his quivering falsetto hovers above ethereal music. In all of Sigur Rós’ official discography, Birgisson only sings in English once, on the track “All Alright.” Fans finally got to hear him sing a majority of songs in English on his first, and as of yet only, solo album “Go,” which he released under the name Jónsi.

Whereas the music of Sigur Rós evolves through various emotions on each track, each song featured on “Go” expresses the nuances of an individual emotion. Effervescent songs like “Go Do,” “Animal Arithmetic” and “Boy Lilikoi” examine the hopeful joys of freedom and growing up, while other tracks such as “Tornado” and “Sinking Friendships” explore feelings of loss and despair.

The album’s most stunning track, “Kolnidur,” one of the album’s only tracks that doesn’t feature any English, creates a soundscape that lulls the listener into loneliness. While the song begins softly with strings, pianos and a surprisingly deep melody sung by Jónsi, a blast of horns chills the rest of the track, sending Jónsi to his iconic falsetto. With the focus so heavy on his voice, the rest of the instruments layer into a cataclysmic atmosphere which haunt the tune.

While the instruments are well executed and mixed, the beauty of “Go” relies heavily on Jónsi’s voice. Raspy yet full, quivering yet controlled, Jónsi uses his voice not only as a tool to convey lyrics, but as an additional instrument alongside the others. Even when he sings in English, Jónsi’s accent makes him nearly impossible to understand, and most listeners are unable to decipher the Icelandic and Hopelandic – a made-up language of gibberish – that Jónsi often uses in his songs.

While mainstream audiences may have missed “Go,” Jónsi is slowly gaining popularity as a musician, having written original songs for both “How to Train Your Dragon” films and writing the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo.” Jónsi is slowly drawing attention and critical approval, which is much deserved with “Go.”

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