Agaetis Byrjun

Agaetis Byrjun

Sigur Ros (1999)

Sigur Ros is (improbably) the second Icelandic entry in this compendium. And Agaetis Byrjun is appropriately weird, coming from a distant country rooted in history and mysticism. Although I think this album is a bit too pretentious, boring, and amelodic to be truly great, those could just be flaws inherent to the genre it represents: post-rock. This is a notably different breed of post-rock than Fugazi, who kinda do their own thing. The two schools of the genre, to put it bluntly, are spacy ethereal exploratory noise and draggy, meandering guitar rock with little traditional structure.

These arty performers are more concerned with texture, mood and strange noises than rhythm, tension and guitars. There’s noticeable negative space and a placating calm in these tunes. You may also notice the compositions take their sweet time. It’s a lawless frontier, where anything goes and no indulgence is too large. There is a lot of influence from classical styles, musique concrete and ambient. This may seem to be more accolades than AB really deserves. After all, fringe artists had been making unbounded soundscapes and noise collages for years, just not with this haunting naturalistic bent. Sigur Ros also prominently features bowed guitars and a made-up pidgin language, which is another quirk they have going for them. This record is fascinating in its presentation of organic sounds in a modern digital context.

One year after this, an album would come that, while very comparable to AB, would usurp it in every possible way. For one, they were arguably made about the same time, so equal credit is due to both. Secondly, the next record I’m writing about demonstrably mashed up styles that previously hadn’t been combined, instead of serving as a lethargic proof of concept. Thirdly, it did so in a much more accessible, diverse, coherent and commercially penetrating way.

HOWEVER, I don’t want to detract from the numerous positive attributes of this LP. It exists in a world unto itself, even if the logic and aesthetics of that world don’t mesh perfectly with our own. The songwriting style and strange beauty of Agaetis Byrjun are unlike anything else I’ve encountered in rock music. But the champion of post-rock was yet to come.

Key track: “Hjartao Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm)”

See also: Spiderland – Slint (1991)

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