For any of you that know me, I've got a strong knack for Icelandic music, film, and art. This album alone was the snowball that created the avalanche. While the prior album, Ágætis byrjun and touring with Radiohead put Sigur Rós on the map, I feel that the parenthesis album was their best (*Note that even if Ágætis byrjun was released this decade, I would have still chosen parenthesis).
This album solidified the distinct Sigur Rós sound of Jónsi Þór Birgisson's haunting falcetto over his reverb-heavy guitar being strummed by an old cello bow. One thing that I think is inconsistent with ( ) from Sigur Rós' other albums is tempo. This album has a really slow bpm. A simple 2/2 beat can seem much longer. While some may say that it is simply "boring", I fell in love with ( ) for this reason exactly. There is time to absorb, dwell, and digest each sound. While the album is far from cluttered, Sigur Rós manages to paint landscapes of sentiments in their notes and kicks.
The album consists of two halves, four untitled songs each. The halves are separated by 36 seconds of silence (maybe two segments of "18 sekúndur fyrir sólarupprás" for any of you diehards out there?). The former are not necessarily happy songs, but they have a soothing and hopeful sound. The latter are melancholy and gloomy. The two halves perfectly juxtapose each other, like two parenthesis. ( ) is also sung in a made up language referred to as "Vonlenska", or "Hopelandic". Built on very few sylables (You si lo no fi lo you so), the gibberish still seems to communicate sentiments and even stories at times. Personally, I think this was key in their international success; they made something transcendent of tongue.
Untitled #8 is the most distinct song on the album. While at first a feelgood pretty song with a catchy guitar riff leads the listener thinking that there is optimistic redemption at the end of the second half of the album, the song takes a dark turn. Past the six minute mark, the song shatters into a hopeless requiem of agressive drums unique from the rest of the album, distorted guitars and bass, and a howling Jónsi. Hopeless and exhilarating.
A live recording of Untitled #4 was also debuted in Cameron Crowe's 2001 release, Vanilla Sky. This was what first wet my feet into the Sigur Rós world. Also, this film captivated me and established what was to be an undying love for Penelope Cruz, Sigur Rós, and dvd menus (if you're anything like me, fall asleep to this one and wake up romantically disillusioned). The rest of the decade would see Sigur Rós' music all over film and television. They became an international phenomenon built on a sound that is completely original.
Sigur Rós was my gateway drug into many other great Icelandic artists. This album was a big part of high school for me. Also, I always wanted to get the sleepwalker image from the back of the album tattooed on me but stupid Ryan Schumaker got it done last year and I hate him. Sleepyface will have to do.