For many people, a decade can come and go in the blink of an eye. Packing in a handful of albums under a few guises, writing soundtracks for a DreamWorks franchise, creating an art installation and going through a significant break-up is sure to accelerate that time-frame exponentially. This is how Icelandic multi-disciplinary artist and Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi spent the 2010s in the wake of his jubilant debut solo album, Go. Its follow-up has a similar effect in challenging our perception of time with many of the songs evolving and changing without warning. It certainly keeps audiences on their toes.
Where his previous solo offering sprinkled Phillip Glass motifs across the arrangements, Shiver is an altogether darker and claustrophobic world. Its foundations are densely packed with everything from scuzzy industrial beats, laser-sharp synth lines and anchoring piano chords for the singer’s distinct cadence to swirl through. This grittier sound is no doubt a reflection of producer du jour A. G. Cook’s influence on the songs. Better known as the head of PC Music and Charli XCX’s Creative Director, Cook implemented his futuristic approach to electro-pop with great success, most evidently on the striking ‘Kórall’ and ‘Swill’.
Together, Jónsi and Cook have created a cohesive record abundant with spacious and ambitious arrangements melding their musical sensibilities (organic instrumentation coupled with abrasively synthetic, glitchy textures) which push the Icelandic musician outside his comfort-zone whilst maintaining his identity and artistic integrity. Often reminiscent of Holly Herndon’s masterful Proto from 2019, amidst the pulsating melodies and frosty tones are lyrical themes steered by acceptance and perseverance (“This is the way it is / It isn’t your fault”). Highlights include the unmistakable dulcet tones of Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser, who gives a poignant performance on ‘Cannibal’. The interplay between her and Jónsi’s vocals alongside a wistful rippling guitar is glorious. Switching up the pace, Swedish pop star Robyn is perfectly utilised on the thumping ‘Salt Licorice’.
Immersive and revealing more of itself with each listen, Shiver is a remarkable return from Jónsi.
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