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

I like how the 33 1/3 series editors give their writers almost no rules for approaching the album they’re writing about. Some volumes are about the making of an album. Some are  about the author’s personal experiences with an album. Some are even works of fiction based on an album. Ethan Hayden’s 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 the erudite challenges, the album is still emotionally engaging and rich with meaning. Hayden details just how Sigur Ros accomplishes this feat, with long, and sometimes long-winded, explorations of the ( )’s historical antecedents for untranslatable language in art and literature. While Sigur Ros fans who aren’t 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.