*** (out of four)
The great thing about Sigur Rós – the Icelandic post-rock band that occasionally sings in a made-up language called Hopelandic – is that they are impossible to enjoy ironically. Either you're the type of person who can sincerely say “Yes, I do really like the rousing string backing for the vocals on 'Varúð'” or you're not. If you are that type of person, do you have any idea how to pronounce “Varúð”? Because, like every song title these guys have, it's a doozy. Also, for real, those are some rousing strings! And vocals! As far as post-rock goes, “Varúð” is a real banger!
The earnest, emotionally charged ambient rock of "Valtari," like the preceding entries in the Sigur Rós catalog, is music made to listen to and feel feelings. Above all, it sounds pretty. As an entry point into the band's sweeping, starry-eyed, dramatic world, it works well.
Described by band members as a creative departure, mostly from the supposedly poppier, more upbeat direction of its last two albums, "Valtari" is in many ways more of a return to form, echoing the darker minimalism of "Ágætis byrjun" and "( )". While singer Jónsi Birgisson's uplifting, gorgeous falsetto remains a powerful tool, it crops up less often here than on recent outings, leaving much of the emotional heavy lifting to swelling basslines and delicately spare piano parts, particularly on the excellent closing track, "Fjögur píanó." Yes, it can all feel very serious, but, hey, that's the point of feelings, right?