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Sigur Rós: Inni

November 14, 2011  |  10:01am
Sigur Rós: <i>Inni</i>

If you talk to someone that’s been to a Sigur Rós show, they’ll probably say it was an experience that either was, or had potential to be, nearly religious. Yeah, their albums are beautiful, and their songs and melodies are carefully constructed and sound great through a decent set of headphones. But there’s something to be said about seeing a group in concert that lives and dies by using dynamics, going from pin-drop quiet verses to ear-drum rattling crescendos.

It’s the same reason that the group can come off as boring or just plain weird to some—if you’re listening to this stuff on bookshelf speakers, on your MacBook or in the background during your morning commute, you’re going to miss a lot of what makes the band great. And Sigur Rós understand this appeal: they’re in demand as a performing act worldwide for a reason.

Maybe it was because of this demand they released Heima in 2007, which shows the group placed all over Iceland, performing small, intimate shows in unlikely (but insanely green and beautiful) settings. But in all of its cinematic beauty, Heima never fully captures the Sigur Rós concert experience. The closest it comes is with the band’s signature concert closer—the last untitled track on 2002’s (), also known as “Popplagið,” or “The Pop Song”—which features the band shrouded behind a huge curtain as they finish the set on an undeniably heavy and intense note.

That’s where Inni steps in. Touted to be “the definitive Sigur Rós live experience,” the DVD/CD (or vinyl) set features recordings done over two nights at London’s Alexandra Palace. The album’s track list almost parallels the concert’s setlist, with the group omitting one track (“Gobbledigook” from 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust), but still playing the concert in sequential order.

As a film, Inni definitely covers new ground for the band by creating a unique viewing atmosphere with its grainy, closely cropped black-and-white shots that look more like Eraserhead than Heima’s glossed-over, near-National Geographic cinematography. Inni’s look was achieved by director Vincent Morisset processing (and reprocessing, and reprocessing) digital cuts onto 16mm film and losing definition with each transfer, which is basically a complete 180 from the band’s last concert film.

And when the band described the images to be “claustrophobic,” they weren’t kidding. One shot appears to be taken directly in front of frontman Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson’s microphone stand, creating a nearly uncomfortable level of intimacy between the viewer and the band.

From a pure listening standpoint, the double-disc album sounds great with production coming from long-time engineer Birgir Jón Birgisson. But with such a strong mix and the band delivering a commonly tight performance, the album has the tendency to play out like a studio recording, which can be a downfall of only listening to the live discs. From a strictly audio standpoint, you catch the group performing their tracks pitch-perfectly with the added grandness of the Alexandra Palace, but other than that, most tracks don’t stray from the way they were recorded on their respective albums—the audience doesn’t get even get anything as much as a vocal flub.

A small difference, however, is that the band is missing its usual string arrangements, which was usually provided by a quartet called Amiina. Whether it was a choice made monetarily or consciously, the band toured in 2008 as a four-piece with only its core members. This all contributes to some empty space that Birgisson tries to fill with his reverb-heavy, violin-bowed guitar parts.

Overall, Inni as a live album is all that fans could ask for: It’s respectably captured, fairly mixed and accurately portrays the band’s live set in an honest light. But if you’ve listened to all of the songs before on album, you’re not going to get anything groundbreaking or new by just listening to the double-live album. Inni is something that is best paired with Vincent Morisset’s grainy, black-and-white vision of the group.

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