Sigur Rós' Valtari: We Imagine What Scenes the Soundtrack Kings' New Album Will Set
We've read interviews with music supervisors -- those folks responsible for selecting, negotiating, and placing music in television programs, movies, and commercials -- where the questions centered on topics such as licensing agreements, working relationships with filmmakers, and general inspiration. But nobody asks the question we all want to hear the answer to: How much of your career do you owe to Sigur Rós?
Even if you haven't heard of Sigur Rós, you've certainly heard them. That's because the music from this Icelandic foursome -- which has been characterized as everything from prog-dirge to Valium rock to ambient chill-out to shoegaze for chin-strokers -- has become something of a soundtrack staple. Sigur Rós was playing when James Franco's character in 127 Hours finally extricated himself from that pesky boulder and stumbled his way to freedom. Sigur Rós was playing at the end of Vanilla Sky when Tom Cruise's character bid farewell to his sweetheart and took a flying leap. Sigur Rós was playing when Bill Murray's character finally tracked down his "great white whale' in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
In fact, right now, on some TV channel, some reality show contestant has completed a particularly difficult challenge that involves a 10-mile hike along the rim of an erupting volcano and the consumption of a dozen witchetty grubs, and as he walks away in slow motion, his arms raised in victory, the sweat dripping from his brow, Sigur Rós' crescendos and sonic bombs are playing in the background.
The group's sixth LP, Valtari, is due out this week. While listening to the album, we couldn't help but imagine all the television/film/commercial scenes that will one day unfurl to these tracks. Here's what we came up with:
The song is comprised of reverb-steeped, slow-moving piano. It's languid and tragic, like slowly turning the pages of a tightly-written diary. In fact, that's what "Fjögur Piano" would be perfect for: Soundtracking a scene where a cloistered teenage girl falls to pieces. Locked in her bedroom, she plays absent-mindedly with the music box on her dresser, sits in a corner and hugs a threadbare teddy, curls up in a ball on the bed, her chin resting on her knees. Balled-up tissues, blackened with mascara, dot the room. There are tear stains on her comforter. The doorknob rattles as her concerned parents attempt to enter.
Stretched-out tempos create the impression that time is slowing down, a concept that would be ideal for life's most important moments. Like the birth of a child. "Varðeldur" evokes a first-time father sitting in a hospital room rocking chair, holding a newborn baby swaddled in a white blanket, the trauma of birth having exhausted both. The father, still decked out in hospital gown and shoe covers, closes his eyes and listens to the beeping IV machine and the squawking hospital intercom, and dreams of his child's potential: all the diseases they will cure, all the planets they will set foot on, all the home-runs they will hit.
The track's expansive vocals and strings fill cathedral-sized spaces; its aching finality is overpowering. "Dauðalogn" could serve as the background music to a widowed, elderly mother walking through her home one last time. As she moves from room to room, the memories of decades past zip through her head like the images on the pages in a flip book. The woman eyes the bare cupboards, walks across faded hardwood floors, closes doors for good. She hopes that one of the many marks her family left on the house -- that cracked pane of glass, that mark on the wall -- will be overlooked by the new owners. [Ed. note: It appears we're too late -- this song has already been used to soundtrack an apparently major moment in the the final episode of season three of The Vampire Diaries. Really.]
The shuffling piano, glittering synthesizers, and processed vocals weave a mood of trembling apprehension. "Rembihnútur" conjures up images of a man shuffling his feet, his eyes desperately searching the faces in a congested airport terminal. He awaits the arrival of a long-ago-departed daughter. Seismic percussion bursts forth and a woman's eyes meet his. The crowd is too thick for her to quicken her pace; she goes with the luggage-carrying flow, slowly making her way toward him, their eyes still locked. Standing face to face, he notices that she's now taller than him. He takes her bags and she smiles.