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September 18, 2013

Icelandic band plays its own kind of rock

INDIANAPOLIS — Someone asked what genre of music Sigur Ros fits in. Their native country might be the best classification.

The Icelandic band was in Indianapolis Sept. 17, playing for a decent-sized audience at the Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn in White River State Park.

There seems to be something distinctive about the music coming out of Iceland. Bjork became famous in the ’90s for jittery, malleable electro with little discernible melody. Of Monsters and Men, who played The Lawn this spring, are far more conventional, seamlessly blending folk and rock.

Sigur Ros (essentially meaning “Victory Rose” in their native tongue) are somewhere in between, though they still have their outré elements.

Over nearly 20 years and seven studio albums, the band has crafted chiming electronic chamber pop/rock with cinematically emotional highs and lows. At one point they can be dripping formless ambience, the next dazzling listeners with majestic spires of driving rock. It’s no coincidence Sigur Ros’ music has been featured prominently in movies and TV.

Their air of mystery only adds to the draw. The band, now a trio (though fleshed out live with strings and added keys and percussion), was mostly obscured by frenzied lights and fog. Between-song banter is virtually nonexistent. Their singer, “Jonsi” Birgisson, also uses a non-literal language known as “Hopelandic” on these shores, something meant to emphasize the music more than any sort of verbal communication.

In recent years Sigur Ros  have favored the ethereal qualities of their music more than the rock-n-roll side. The release of this year’s “Kveikur” mercifully restored more of a balance. That was on display at this show. Sigur Ros may be too demanding of a listen for some, but their approach to an otherwise tired format deserves consideration, if not respect.

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