Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun (20th Anniversary Edition)

Twenty years after its release, a new reissue of Sigur Rós's seminal album Ágætis Byrjun shows why the Icelandic outfit remain so vital

Album Review by Adam Turner-Heffer | 19 Jun 2019
  • Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun (20th Anniversary Edition)
Album title: Ágætis Byrjun (20th Anniversary Edition)
Artist: Sigur Rós
Label: Krunk Records
Release date: 21 Jun

The idea that Sigur Rós's seminal album Ágætis Byrjun (or, "A Good Beginning") is two decades old this year seems as jarring as the band's recent controversies. Former drummer Orri Páll Dýrason (who joined after this album's release) departed last year amidst sexual assault allegations, while the Icelandic quartet has recently been accused of tax fraud between 2011 to 2014.

However, even 20 years on, one only needs to listen to the opening moments of Intro/Svefn-g-Englar for all that bad taste to wash away. The song and album as a whole remain Sigur Rós's best and purest distillation of their enigmatic sound and still blows audiences and imitators away to this point. This repackaged 20th-anniversary edition extensively collects hundreds of alternate takes and b-sides, a book, and a live album from the Icelandic Opera House in Reykjavík.

The Icelanders, assisted by the fin de siècle spirit of late 90s post-rock heralded by the likes of Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, found their voice on Ágætis Byrjun, creating a musical universe. Thanks to Kjartan Sveinsson's Beatles-esque ear for arrangement and orchestration, singer Jónsi Birgisson flourishes on this record. The gorgeous Starálfur still manages to be incredibly moving with its palindromic string arrangement, while Olsen Olsen features the introduction of the band's own gibberish language Hopelandic. Half a decade later, Sigur Rós would find themselves on the soundtrack of practically every film and nature documentary produced. However, it is this humble beginning which proves why they still remain such a vital band.

Listen to: Svefn-g-Englar, Starálfur, Olsen Olsen