Saturday, 25 July 2009

Jónsi and Alex - Riceboy Sleeps Album Review (2009)

Jónsi and Alex, AKA Jónsi Birgisson from Sigur Rós and boyfriend Alex Somers, have taken the ethereal other-worldly approach of Sigur Rós and turned it into the mainly instrumental string-overdose Riceboy Sleeps, an hour-long demonstration of control, elegance and ambience. Fans of Sigur Rós may expect something more than lots of empty spaces, swathes of orchestral arrangements, and a few flashes of Jónsi’s trademark vocals. But that is what they get.

Happiness, the opening song, first appeared on the wonderful compilation Dark Was The Night, introducing the world to the duo. It is nine minutes of subtlety and softness which takes nearly half the time for the strings to get into full-flow. Within this is grinding machinery in slow motion and the distant sounds of a busy world, ending in delicate piano.

The rest of Riceboy Sleeps unfolds in the same way, with a few surprises. Boy 1904, one of only two songs under seven minutes, is filled with gorgeous choral vocals, slowly disintegrating into faded voices and the crackles of dying fire. The eight minutes of Howl is layers of astonishing strings and animal noises, like a modern reworking of Jean Michel Jarre’s Zoolook. Before this Daníell In The Sea is more choir with added breathless steam engine. Atlas Song is the closest we get to Jónsi’s vocals after a build-up of piano and more crackling electronics.

There are no great surprises elsewhere. Indian Summer and the short All The Big Trees fall foul of sounding like the orchestra tuning up before a show. At least the former shows a flash of vocals for the last three minutes. Stokkseyri is wonderful looped piano interrupted by annoying clicks finally resorting to the comfortable strings to finish. This lack of new ideas is a constant distraction.

Riceboy Sleeps in a interesting project. It is the backing track and antidote to a frantic world. It is pure escapism. But there is a limit to what you can do with an approach which relies too much on doing a lot with very little. At times the album is underwhelmingly majestic, but for the most part this just fills the time between the more complete works of Sigur Rós.
-- CS

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