Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) Talks Sigur Rós’ Kveikur

I hardly ever get high anymore. It must be a sign of old age, as my younger, higher-living friends suggest. But for some reason I thought it might...

I hardly ever get high anymore. It must be a sign of old age, as my younger, higher-living friends suggest. But for some reason I thought it might be a good idea, in preparation, to listen to the new record by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. They make beautiful, ethereal music with lyrics I don’t understand. Perfect to chill out to on a lazy afternoon, right?

Bad idea.

First, when I went to my mail to click the link to download the music it turned out to be a “stream.” A fucking stream! Now, maybe that’s how many of us listen these days, but when it comes to really hearing music, a computer speaker is no place to do that.  It sounds like poop. It takes what makers of music work very hard to create as beautifully they can and turns it into a soulless representation of its former self.  Bummer for me, bummer for Sigur Rós, because from what I know of their music, it lends itself to truly being able to appreciate their sonic perfectionism. Their sound sounds expensive. And from what I learned on the web, it is.

Second, as soon as I pressed play, the phone rings — it’s my dad, there’s trouble at home. Again.  The combination of my dad’s desperate situations and the grinding abrasiveness of the album’s opening track “Brenninsteinn” was not what I had in mind when I took that fateful puff.

Third, two of our three dogs proceed to vomit repeatedly throughout the house and on the guest bed. This is no reflection on “Brenninsteinn,” although one dog did open the bathroom door so she could pee on the bathroom floor. As a rule they only react to the music I’m working on, and once, one of them peed on the floor and it rained down between the floorboards onto our rehearsal in the basement below.

Fourth, the outside handle to the front door of our house came off in my hand.

Fifth, my wife stepped on a bee.

Scroll forward a week and I’ve started listening again. And what a difference a week makes. Looks like I’m going to Iceland! Yep, we (Lambchop) are going to play a couple of shows and also to celebrate and realize my wife’s 50th birthday dream of riding horses there. Oh yeah.

So with this as inspiration for an attempt at another listen, I did some research on the place that is the home of the sound coming from my tiny speakers. I learned a bunch. The main thing I discovered is that I can’t make heads or tails of their language, which for me is pretty important. This goes for the lyrics of the stream I’m listening to, but I’m trying to let that slide since they must really mean something to Sigur Rós, which I guess is all that matters, really. I also learned that in Icelandic, “booking a flight” is “bókun á flugi,” which sounds kind of cute to me.

I read in Wikipedia that sometimes Sigur Rós write lyrics in a made-up language. So sometimes their meaning is probably a wonder even to the native Icelandic listener. A considerate and fair approach, I’d say. Still, “I don’t know what the fuck they talk about.” This, incidentally, is the opening lyric of Lambchop’s latest record Mr. M, and believe you me, people seem to understand that. Just ask my in-laws.

What very little I can make out lyrically has come from two recent performances of the song “Kveikur” on American late-night TV. What I learned from Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno is that the title track is pronounced “Quaker.” Also that singer Jónsi is a “hugger” judging from his hearty embrace of Jimmy. Finding out both these things has made the music seem somewhat warmer and less scary. Being “not high” helped too.

I also noted that Jónsi wore the same costume for both performances, an outfit distinguished by his right arm (his bowing arm) having a fringe made up of strings with little balls on the end of them. This makes his right arm appear to be some sort of Space Age version of Dennis Hopper’s fringe jacket in Easy Rider.

These performances were impressive and the sound was good, although the stream of the track I heard does have some sonic differences. Some we have discussed, some were more of a translation of the album track to a performance complete with strings and lights, etc., and my consumption of a small cocktail or two.

So I’m feeling good about this listen so far and seeing as how I’m stuck here listening on the computer, I decide to go to the official UK Sigur Rós website and lo, I find a video for “Brenninsteinn.” And it is terrifying. All dark and scary and well photographed with people doing odd and scary things to each other in a “Lord of the Game of Thrones” kind of way.  Naturally, I start flashing back to my first listen all over again. So I click on another video. It’s a lyric video for “Isjaki.”  Jesus, just what I needed.

So my listening is almost done here and as I write, the office has, in a matter of minutes, gone from daylight to dark. An electrical storm has just descended on my home. The dogs are all freaked out, one is incessantly panting, one is jumping on my typing arm, and the third is carrying around a dead toy. I just want to hear the last track before the power goes out.

I click. A piano and the sound of perhaps a somber power-saw repeat a figure of both beauty and corruption. It somewhat reminds me of Godspeed You! Black Emperor but shorter. Both good things mixed with the thunder outside adding to the soundscape in the office… and then it was over. Leaving me with the sounds of rain and canine trepidation.


Kurt Wagner is a founding member of the group Lambchop, who have been making records consistently since approx. 1987. Look it up. He is currently working on electronic dance recordings based on a 2 min. 40 sec. monologue by Buddy Hackett called “The Diet”  originally released by Coral Records as a 78 rpm single in 1953. You can follow him on Twitter here