Let's just get this out in the open:
Sigur Rós is weird.
Constantly compared to Radiohead and Pink Floyd, these associations, while decent, don't really encapsulate the band. Iceland's best export since the Sugarcubes (that's the Sugarcubes, not Björk), Sigur Rós is as weird as Zappa playing jazz from a frozen-over hell, Phish covering Talking Heads' Remain in Light or Björk doing anything.
So it's not surprising that you aren't hearing many cuts off the band's latest release on American radio. Even in Iceland, where Sigur Rós is bigger than Thor, airplay is sparse.
"We sell a lot of albums and concert tickets, but we're not on the radio," says drummer Orri Pall Dyrason. "It's all pop music [on Icelandic radio], and it's harder to find something new and different now because radio stations won't play it."
But lack of airplay isn't holding them back, Dyrason says. Instead, it's building them up as a truly underground phenomenon. And thanks to the fact that vocalist-guitarist Jon Thor Birgisson sings in either Icelandic or Hopelandic (a language he invented), it's not likely Sigur Rós will ever move aboveground.
To form a band this distinctive, you've got to find mad geniuses who're less concerned with rock 'n' roll than they are with string quartets, German drinking songs and both analog and digital recording techniques. In Iceland, this sort is easier to find. With 300,000 citizens, no big music industry and few celebrities, the country doesn't seem to breed the excessively blind ambition so insidious in America.
Dyrason, for example, never fantasized about being the next Keith Moon. He was just another 11-year-old who wanted to play the vibes.
"I went to a music school and asked if I could learn how to play the vibraphone," he says. "But they said that I needed to learn how to play drums for a year, which is just bullshit, I think, because they didn't have a vibraphone. But then I really felt [a passion] for the drums."
A few years ago, while on tour in New York, Dyrason found an old vibraphone in a little side-street shop. He bought it, and continued to buy things-odd drums, bells, chimes, even a celesta. Now his collection of unusual instruments shows up on the new album, Takk...
The band recorded Takk... from last December to late June in its home studio outside of Reykjavik. During the months prior to recording, various members of Sigur Ros were involved in 13 other projects, including composing music for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the Danish Royal ballet and composing and performing a 70-minute orchestral piece titled Odin's Raven Magic.
The band took these sundry experiences and added them to the mix while making Takk... The result: 70 minutes of Wagnerian rock mixed via Enya on acid via Radiohead's Kid A.
"We were playing around with a lot of different stuff in the studio and had lots of ideas on what do on this album. It was lots of fun," says Dyrason. "I used a lot of synthetic drums, and I played around with contact microphones a bit. I glued microphones to the pedals of my bass drums so I could hear the chains rattle. That crunch, crunch, crunch on the second track ["Glosoli"], you can hear it there."
While the album sounds like an avant-garde Nordic symphony, live it is something else. Here, all comparisons to Floyd break down. Where Roger Waters and crew were primarily concerned with note-for-note replication, Sigur Rós' live shows are rendered with a more dramatic approach.
"It's more stripped down. And that's the way it should be," says Dyrason with a laugh. "It's a bit different and that's good because that's life."
Sigur Ros plays at Copley Symphony Hall, 8 p.m. on Oct. 3. $32.50. 619-220-8497.