Von, the first album from supernatural Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros, gets reissue treatment due to its small initial pressing and the subsequent explosion of hype surrounding the unbelievably brilliant Agaetis Byrjun. Its resurfacing now completes many a Sigur Ros fan collections and finalizes a string of records documenting the evolution of the band. Von, Agaetis Byrjun and ( ) represent three drastic mutations for the band, from sometimes meandering atmospherics, through colossal life altering melodies, to otherworldly messages. So it is important that one not come to this release with great expectations. Rather, it should be approached with a curiosity to hear the type of experimental beginnings that started what would come to be a wonderfully realized career.
For all of its experimental leanings (unrecognizable recordings, violent outbursts and long sections of silence), Von contains a few wonderful melodies that sound like the slightly less cultivated predecessors to songs such as “Sven-G-Englar” and “Olsen Olsen.” These recordings may not seem groundbreaking by today’s standards but they do say something about the potential Sigur Ros had back in ‘97. If I had known about Von then, it would have been at the top of my music pile; nothing else from the period sounds anything like it. However, the sad thing about reissues is that (some of the time) the singularity a record once had is often destroyed by the growing eclecticism in music.
At nearly seventy-three minutes Von is a bit of a challenge to get through in one sitting, although it never becomes so tedious that you would want to turn it off. This one is manageable due to all of the little insights it offers into the bands early sound, hinting at the level of greatness they would later achieve. Things start off with the aimless “Sigur Ros” which is most certainly the hardest song on the record to sit through at nearly ten minutes. It takes a while for the band to build up steam but eventually the languid pace early in the record pays off in the albums mid section with songs such as “Myrkur.” Its hazy guitar and wandering vocal melody could have fit perfectly on Souvlaki; the sound and texture of which are scarily reminiscent (not a bad thing). Also, the production on this record isn’t nearly as crisp and evocative of their homeland as on Agaetis Byrjun so it ends up sounding like a slightly watered down, retro Sigur Ros.
There are too many ideas here that are applied to an overlarge canvas, but this excess and floridity is what allowed the band to experiment and eventually settle on some cohesive and beautiful output. This is the sprawling, loose, experimental Sigur Ros. It’s mature and finely toned offspring had yet to come.
- Andrew Iliadis
/jan 15th 2005/