Jónsi channelling Bjork’s Homogenic album.
It’s been a good decade coming but ‘Shiver’ is finally out and it marks the most un-Jónsi album to date. Yet it still feels and channels everything that Jónsi does so well. His falsetto, dreamy vocals float and soar as usual. This time though, its carrying synths and trance infused beats rather than post-rock epics.
Bringing onboard producer AG:Cook, who specialises in glitch-pop and a bent towards the experimental is what really pivots Jónsi’s sound. From the outset ‘Exhale’ kicks off the tone change. It’s less about being uplifting, which is how I felt Go was about, this feels more about involuntary moments of fun, freedom and following joy. The synths are bold, the drum tracks are brash and harsh and the production veers on kitchen-sink. For example, ‘Wildeye’ mashes up industrial smashes into beats whilst harps and choirs gently round off think bass pads. One thing you can never say the album is, is boring.
Elsewhere Jónsi uses this fresh approach to tackle new genres. ‘Shiver’ is a dream-pop gem that comes straight from Bjork’s Homogenic or Volta. ‘Cannibal’ features Elizabeth Fraser (how many guest slots has she had this year?!) singing almost like a traditional Indian person. The track itself sits firmly in the 80’s synthwave genre and expands from a foot-tapper to something extremely luxurious with the dozens of musical layers that overflow onto the listener.
‘Salt Licorice’ is a bop that merges brash Europop and Robyn’s voice to the fore of the duet. Everything about the song is maximalist. The crunch of the drums, the distorted bells, the angry synth rides and even the processed vocals – the latter of which Jónsi certainly doesn’t need. It is everything Sigur Ros is not yet it still works. ‘Swill’ has an abusive relationship with a vocoder to the point where Jónsi sounds out of tune, much like the entire song. It’s still not clicked with me yet.
Even when Jónsi is being quieter there is room for fun and innovation. Taking a leaf from Vienna Teng’s book, ‘Sumario sem aldrei kom’ computerises his voice as a choir to back himself up. It is beautiful and haunting at the same time. ‘Korall’ is a celestial bleep bloop fest straight out of a sci-fi movie. ‘Hold’ reminds me of SOHN and Son Lux (again) in many ways with its downtempo vibes but with aggressive production. The two final tracks are soothing come downs to close the album. ‘Grenade’ plays with vinyl spitting drones and lots of ethereal organs – it also lets Jónsi’s voice shine in a pure form for a while too which after all the production is appreciated. ‘Beautiful Boy’ closes the album like a chewed up phone message tape over glacial synths. Even here, we aren’t spared the jarring sirens of production buzzing and aggressive hacksawing.
I feel like ‘Shiver’ is probably going to be hugely divisive. The album is relentlessly aggressive and maximalist to the point where sometimes you can’t really tell what you are listening to. At times, that is a real boon and on others, its over complicated chaos. I really applaud the different direction and there are some real gems here. It just lacks that ebb and flow as a full album until we get to the very end and I’d have moved the track listing around to ensure you get some rest from the harsh abuse.
Recommended track: Shiver
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