In 2008 this cult-beloved Icelandic band upended expectations with "Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust," a set of relatively concise art-pop songs that suggested, after a series of increasingly tedious space-rock albums, that Sigur Rós had developed an interest in rhythm and energy. Predictably, reaction among the group's cult was mixed, and last year it backtracked with the typically sluggish "Valtari." All hope for excitement, it seemed, was lost.
Consider it another pleasant surprise, then, that on "Kveikur" Sigur Rós regains some of the ground it gave up, exchanging the ponderous tone poetry of "Valtari" for an aggressive, harder-edged sound that transmits emotions other than wide-eyed wonder. (Indie rock has given us enough wide-eyed wonder lately to last for years.) "Stormur" conjures the delicious anxiety of young love, while the grinding title track gets as close to Nine Inch Nails' furious industrial disco as "Yeezus" does.
There are longueurs, of course. But in moving away from the band's stultifying idea of beauty, "Kveikur" gets at something livelier — and far more lifelike.
Two and a half stars
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