33 1/3: Sigur Ros – ( ) by Ethan Hayden (Bloomsbury)


What I like most about the 33 1/3 series is that the writers are given almost no rules on how to explore the album they’re writing about. You might pick up a volume recounting the making of an album, or one based on the author’s own personal experiences with an album, or you might even get a novel based on an album. Ethan Hayden’s 33 1/3 book on Sigur Ros’ 2002 album ( ), is largely concerned with the use (or non-use) of language. If you’re unfamiliar with ( ), well, you can already see that the title has no apparent meaning. Add to that no song titles (they’re referred to as “Untitled 1”, “Untitled 2”, and so on) and lyrics made up of nonsensical sounds called Hopelandic, and you’ve got an album where words have no meaning and vocals are gobbledygook, with just 30 syllables used in 72 minutes of music (this sentence uses more). Yet, despite these challenges, the album is emotionally engaging and rich with meaning. Hayden details how Sigur Ros accomplishes this feat, with long, and sometimes long-winded, explorations of historical antecedents of untranslatable language in art and literature. While Sigur Ros fans who aren’t also linguistics students would probably prefer a book on the music and not things like trochaic rhythm, xenogloss and echolalia, Hayden makes his points successfully and gave me a new perspective on an album I already loved.