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Operatic Space-Elf Glacier Epic

After a performance at New York City's Beacon Theater, Sigur Ros came back onstage to thunderous applause not once but three times. Never bothered to play another note, though--just took a bow in front of a screen that read "Thank you" or some such in Icelandic. After maybe 15 minutes of hungry clapping, the lights finally went on and a cry of disappointment erupted from the crowd. Was this break of rock concert protocol a gesture of modest appreciation or a coy snubbing? With this band anything is hard to tell, but to be fair, a Sigur Ros show is not quite a rock concert.

It's more likeâ_| an operatic space-elf glacier epic. (Ok, so you'll read that from every reviewer.) The Sigur Rps opera unfolds like so: In the post-apocalyptic future, Kid A has grown to be a fearsome revolutionary leader. He sends his four waifish, androgynous proteges back in time for some obscure reason; my guess is that their native Iceland has sunk, or maybe it's something to do with humpback whales. They deliver from the future lush mournful dirges, sung in strange code. Whatever Sigur R0s is trying to tell us, the roaring bowed guitars and cosmic soundscapes make it sound really f--king important.

Or maybe it's like...a proggie fraud of Yes-sized proportions, a flabby naked pretender to the new millenial throne who steals beauty from all the bright fringes of the music kingdom: Godspeed, You Black Emperor!, Mogwai, Low and even fellow Icelandinos, Mum. Self-proclaimed to be important, their musical-savior posture is dramatic enough to bust onto the pages of the glossy mainstream like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. Lofty melodies so grand they disappear into a gaudy Technicolor horizon, and a made-up gibberish language--Hopelandish--that's hokey enough to merit its own Stonehenge dwarves. Yes, Sigur RA3s is breathtaking, but after a few listens to the sweeping orchestras and crashing cannondrums, you just want to take a breather.

On their breakthrough second album, 2000's Ageatis Byrjun, Sigur Ros let slip hints of the latter even as they seduced the international hypemachine with romantic crystalline visions of the former. What better way to tip the scale from art to pretension than to release eight unnamed songs, with blank-paged packaging and an untitle? Literally, the nameless state of Sigur Ros's new album, ( ), is only tangentially related to the fact of said album's existence.

Let's not get all existential and forget to mention that it's also a beautiful piece of music, at once a more restrained and looser-flowing effort than their last. The album is divided into two thematic halves-one slow-moving and pristine-- like continental drift screened at one frame per year, the other tense and tumultuous like battles of the gods. It all revolves around a single lyrical refrain, repeated and mutated in lulling, ongoing patterns. Ongoing and still going, beyond 70 minutes of sightless cinema to a rousing roof-burning finale that doesn't try to save the world, just busts some space-elf butt. If you make it to the end, you certainly don't need an encore-a simple "thank you" would suffice.

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