SOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Hvarf-Heim (2007).
Sigur Rós put on one of the greatest live shows I’ve seen. There was nothing “special” about it , in that there were no real pyrotechnics, there was just a very simple film playing on a screen behind them, but somehow they took over the small theater I saw them in…I can’t remember which one, maybe The Limelight in NYC…and I had a tremendously trippy experience. Normally, I’d chalk this up to the surrounding smoke, but this time it was definitely the music. The high notes, the swirling tunes, the coda to a sing in which the singer snag into the pickup of his guitar (a very weird thing to see), and then used some of his guitar effects on his voice; wow. I actually had to sit down after the show.
If you really let it, a Sigur Rós CD will totally envelop you. There are many layers of lush strings and harmonies, and the Icelandic/nonsensical lyrics push it over the edge into an otherwordly realm.
But what do they really sound like? My blasphemous answer is they sound like Coldplay if you pushed Coldplay to the furthest edges of their sound. If you put acid in the Coldplay CD you’d get Sigur Rós. I have a friend who loves Coldplay and I burned a copy of the second Sigur Rós album; however, I’ve no idea if she liked it…great story huh?
So, anyhow, this collection, Hvarf-Heim, is a two disc set of rarities and an unplugged live performance. The rarities are nothing too different from a typical Sigur Rós collection. Which is not to say that they’re not great–they are–they’re just nothing out of the ordinary for them, more of a boon for collectors. It’s really the love album which is what stands out. I wondered, after seeing them fully plugged in, what an unplugged version of the band could do. What you find out is that the melodies are really strong, and the otherworldlyness comes not from studio trickery or something else, but from the excellent songcraft and the soaring vocals.
They use strings to play the swells that the songs usually contain, and the strings do a great job. The recording definitely sounds unplugged, but it still retains that otherworldly sound. There’s definitely something in the Icelandic waters that produces such wonderful music.
[READ: January 31, 2008] McSweeney’s #25.
This issue of McSweeney’s sees a return to the less audacious format. It is a smallish book with an overlaid cover of two different materials. The only color components of the work are a series of horses painted by. The series is called Horses say What and each story has a cover page of a beautiful horse.
And since this volume is all about the stories, so will this review, then, be.
This story of a Russian man who comes to work at a paper plant and befriends a slacker employee is very, very manly. It seems to be full of robust men, like Yuri who are fearless, until that fearlessness catches them off guard. The story is slightly off kilter in that the narrative watches the main action from something of a distance, which makes the story more compelling. The main plotline, such as it is, is pretty simple, so it’s really the oddness of the storytelling that makes you want to finish it.
STEVEN MILLHAUSER-”The Tower”
This is a cool story investigating the reality behind constructing the Tower of Babel (it never explicitly says that, but it is a tower that reaches heaven). It is neither mocking nor reverend, but it looks very much at the logistics that would be involved in creating such a tower. This is not to imply that it is a funny story, for it is not, it is actually a little sad, but it makes for a good look at the human condition.
EMILY ANDERSON-”Love, The Frontier”
A series of diary entries propels this story of a contemporary woman leaving the city (Boston) for the frontier. She buys some oxen and starts roughing it, all in search of love. Some funny anachronistic moments but I felt they were used so sparsely that the jokes were not as strong as they could have been. I the story wasn’t meant to be funny, then it just left me a little flat.
JOYCE CAROL OATES-”Magda Maria”
This is a sad love story. The unnamed narrator is madly in love with a seemingly mythical character named Magad Maria. In the beginning of the story she is a beautiful, mysterious woman who is beholden to a brute of a man named Danto. Through the course of the story Magda’s life grows grimmer and grimmer, yet the narrator continues in his unyielding love. While not the most original of storylines, the storytelling was very compelling and really made you want to see what was up with this mysterious woman.
DAVID HOLLANDER-”The Naming of The Islands”
I didn’t like this story at the beginning. It was a nautical story about sailors being allowed to name the islands that they “discover.” It seemed to be just a simple story of conquest. However, as the story progressed, we learn that the islands are in fact a surreal collection of little islets. Each one proves to be progressively more bizarre and frustrating to the starving, dehydrated sailors. Although in reality this was a depressing story, the inventiveness of the crazy islands made the story very enjoyable to read despite itself.
ALEXANDER MACBRIDE-”The Ape Man”
A funny (strange) short story about a man who is switched at birth with a dead ape’s child. The two, who are in some respects stepbrothers, both grow to be kings in their respective cultures: the man in the ape culture and the dead ape baby in the kingdom of the dead. Like I said, pretty strange.
KENNETH BONERT-”Peacekeepers, 1995″
This was the longest story by far in this collection. It concerns a Canadian journalist named Henry as he is sent to Bosnia to cover the peacekeeping mission. As soon as he arrives, he befriends a soldier called Pigeon. Pigeon’s advice gets Henry in grave trouble with the locals. While trying to figure out what to do, Pigeon “helps” him some more. His entire stay in Bosnia, less than 24 hours turns into a whirlwind of violence, hallucinations and utter mistrust. This would have been a subject I wouldn’t have cared about, but the story was really gripping, with a surprising climax. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t “end” per se, but the story itself was great.
TERRY WRIGHT-”The Butcher, The Baker”
A one page story/poem/ramble. I read it three times and am still not sure what to make of it.
CHLOE HOOPER-”A Death in Custody”
This is a follow up to a story in Mcsweeneys #21. It is yet more depressing information amount racial inequities in Australia. A ray of hope is presented but is ultimately shot down. The realities of this area are staggering.
PADGETT POWELL-”No Empress Eyes”
This was a surreal little story about a girl who loses her horse “No Empress Eyes” and then falls in with a boy who wants to create a new harvester that will spare the lives of the deer who happen to be in the fields. The farm boy’s family takes in the girl, and they live in a cave together. Surreal, indeed. It didn’t leave to much of an impression, although I did enjoy the boy’s discourse on trying to save the deer. In fact, I’ll amend my opinion to say that I enjoyed his half of the story but not so much the horse part. Fortunately it was only 5 or so pages.
[For ease of searching I include: Sigur Ros]
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