Go, Jonsi's debut album to kickstart his solo artist career, is the album many Sigur Ros fans have been waiting for. Ever since Sigur Ros hinted at more poppy, down-to-earth style changes in 2008, fans have been both anticipating and shuddering at the idea of the grand atmospherics of Sigur Ros being compressed into a 4-minute pop song. A band known for their post-rock song structures, lush orchestration, Icelandic heritage, and lead singer Jonsi Birgisson's angelic falsetto, Sigur Ros took their pieces of music with a calculated seriousness as avant-garde pop experimentalists. In Go, Jonsi Birgisson leaves many of the things behind that kept listeners at arms length (namely the the 9-minute songs, singing in Icelandic, and ambient soundscapes). In what could have been a tragic disaster, Go turns out to be an album of surreal pop songs that are bursting with life and character. What was set out to be a mostly acoustic album, Go is brought to epic hugeness thanks in part to the beautiful orchestral arrangements by Nico Muhly and quirky percussion of Samuli Kosminen. Working together, these simple pop songs become dizzying displays of unbridled excitement and celebration.
The first single and opening track, "Go Do", features Kosminen's animated percussion and Muhly's child-like orchestrations at their very best. Opening with Jonsi's voice processed as bird chips and off-kilter flute notes reminiscent of Muhly's own release, Mothertongue, then erupting later with big bass drums and an explosive chorus, "Go Do" has got to enough quirk to remain refresh and enough catchy melodies to be one of the best pop songs of the year. In Go's slower tracks, most notably "Tornado", Muhly's contemplative arrangements really shine through as Jonsi explores different vocal ranges and breaks up the pace of the four-on-the-floor madness. The songs themselves, here in English for the first time, are playful and simple and translate in ways that surprisingly work in ways that only non-native speakers can pull off. While at times it feels a little overbearing, for the most part, anyone with a heart will give in to Jonsi's insistence that life is exciting and worth living. The reason Go succeeds most, however, is that it reintroduces the world to Jonsi's fascinating voice, which is now on display in choral harmonies, multiple registers, and even chopped up and sampled. We've always wondered what it would sound like to hear Jonsi working in this setting and the results are more exciting and heartwarming then we could have even imagined.