Sigur Rós’ second record—their first to be widely heard outside their native Iceland—is one of those epochal, game-changing albums that redefined what is possible in rock music. In this case, it proved that a neoclassical, shoegazing post-rock band specializing in glacially paced 10-minute movements sung in a made-up, indecipherable dialect could attract a mass audience and become one of the most influential alt-rock groups of their generation.
Ágætis Byrjun delivers one weighty moment after another: sonar-pinged arias that gradually accrue enough force to shift tectonic plates (“Svefn-G-Englar”); meditative piano ballads that erupt into shrieking symphonic psychedelia ("Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása"); choral sing-alongs that sound like Christmas in heaven (“Olsen Olsen”). But for all of his band’s grandiose gestures, Jónsi Birgisson's crystalline, androgynous coo turns Ágætis Byrjun into an intensely intimate experience. Even if you can’t understand what he’s saying, his vulnerable voice has the uncanny power to tap into your most repressed emotions and deep-seated bittersweet memories. This deluxe 20th-anniversary edition provides some illuminating insight into a record that, to this day, still casts an enigmatic aura. Even if Ágætis Byrjun seemed to come out of nowhere, the alternate version of the album featured here—assembled from demos, live versions, and outtakes—highlights the years of fine-tuning that Sigur Rós undertook on the path to perfection.
Hjartað Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm)
Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása
Intro (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999)
Von (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999)
Syndir guðs (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999)
Flugufrelsarinn (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999)
Olsen olsen (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999)
Ágaetis byrjun (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999)
Viðrar vel til loftárása (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999)