What is it about Sigur Rós? By rights, this Icelandic band shouldn’t be anywhere near popular enough to headline Madison Square Garden or appear on The Simpsons, and yet in the first half of 2013, they’ve done both, building anticipation for this, their seventh album of elliptical, ethereal, strangely enchanting “dream rock,” as many describe their sound. This time out, “nightmare rock” sometimes seems the better term, though for all its ominous textures, abrasive screeching and sludgy, almost Nine Inch Nails–worthy synth tones, Sigur Rós’ most aggressive album retains a certain curious beauty.

As always, frontman Jónsi Birgisson sings in the made-up language “Hopelandic,” a variation of Icelandic, making it utterly impossible to understand the lyrics. The album’s Wikipedia page offers English translations of the song titles, and while you can’t believe everything you read online, they seem about right. Lead single “Brennisteinn” is said to mean “Brimstone,” and indeed, it’s a fiery, apocalyptic thing—a haunting epic undercut by grinding synths. “Isjaki,” or “Iceberg,” is almost poppy by comparison, and at 5:04, the twitchy, spacey tune is among the leaner cuts. “Stormur” is even shorter and more accessible, with its heroic keyboard swells and twinkling xylophone or toy piano. If the title means “Storm,” it might describe a tranquil moonlit snow squall. And so it goes for much of Kveikur, as Sigur Rós aim to entrance and mystify, not to overwhelm us with their sonic grandiosity. Maybe that’s why they get to hang with Homer and play New York’s biggest room. –Kenneth Partridge


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