Twenty years ago a band came out of seemingly nowhere to deliver a record that “filled a deep-seated need listeners didn’t even know they had” (Pitchfork Best Albums of the 00s). The band was Sigur Rós and the record Ágætis byrjun, and to mark its 20th birthday this June, the band will release a definitive boxset of this, their breakthrough album.
The lavishly packaged, limited edition, seven vinyl album set will include early versions and demos of the songs on the record, as well as never before songs that for the first time draw a line back to early influences which would soon become undetectable in the rootless beauty of the finished article.
There is also an immaculate recording of the concert the band played at the Íslenska Óperan (Icelandic Opera House) on June 12, 1999 to celebrate the release of record that would soon send them around the world on word-of-mouth; a pre-internet phenomenon.
Live at Íslenska Óperan 1999 has been painstakingly mixed for the 20th anniversary edition by the band’s Kjartan Sveinsson with Birgir Birgisson, who made the original recording of the event. The 90-minute show has not been heard in full since it was broadcast live on RAS 2 radio all those years ago.
In a note of poignancy, the show at the Íslenska Óperan would be the last original drummer Águst Gunnarsson would play with his fellow band mates, vocalist/guitarist Jón Thor Birgisson, bassist Georg Holm and keyboard player Kjartan Sveinsson, who himself had only officially joined the band the year before.
The Demos & Rarities and early live recordings, which stretch across six sides of vinyl, have been pulled together from the band’s own personal archive and contain many recordings they had forgotten existed. They ended up trawling through every cassette, DAT and other defunct audio storage system to unearth parallel versions of no fewer than eight of the nine songs on Ágætis byrjun*. Together these form a remarkable store of abandoned ideas, blind alleys and could-have-beens.
Listen to Flugufresarinn (Live at Íslenska Óperan, 1999) – BELOW:
Across the first two albums of Demos & Rarities there are guide vocal versions of Svefn-g-englar and Ágætis byrjun, an original speed version of Staralfur, Vidrar vel til loftarasa with alternative massively extended string-laden ending, Olsen Olsen with an oboe; each a snapshot of a band trying things out and about to find their feet in a spectacular way.
The third album of Demos & Rarities goes into the uncharted waters of early demos for the record, with songs so nascent that they don’t yet have titles. Hugmynd 1, 2 and 3 reveal surprising, previously unseen facets of the band’s development. Alongside these and the early b-side Rafmagnið búið, is the long sought after Debata Mandire, on which Jónsi and Kjartan duet in keening falsettos, before, as Kjartan says in the extensive sleeve notes, his “bad habits” robbed him of the ability to sing that high.
In some cases the only source of this material might be a single, unlabelled cassette and, as a result, glitches need to be taken as part of the patina of age.
The deluxe vinyl boxset also comes with an 84-page cloth-bound book, featuring a plethora of visual content drawn from the Sigur Rós archive (aka an overstuffed case in Kjartan’s studio). Handwritten string arrangements, lost artwork ideas and early ‘business cards’, are seen alongside candid images of the band at the moment just before their lives changed.
The whole is housed in an elegant linen-bound box, available exclusively thru the band’s website – www.sigurros.com. The first 1999 copies will be numbered.
All the musical content available in the deluxe vinyl edition is mirrored in the expanded 4 x CD edition, and is included in the double vinyl version as a download code. Available in all good record stores from June 21, 2019.
*There is no alternative version of Intro and, as all good Sigur Rós watchers know, Avalon is a quarter-speed version of Starálfur and, as such, no prior versions exist.
Ágætis byrjun – A Good Beginning ( 20th Anniversary Edition)
1999 Deluxe 7 x LP numbered limited edition:
3 x LP – Demos and Rarities (100 minutes):-
Svefn-g-englar (Live at Popp í Reykjavík, 1998)
Starálfur (Original speed version)
Flugufrelsarinn (1998 Demo)
Ný batterí (Instrumental)
Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm) (1995 Demo)
Viðrar vel til loftárása (Alternative ending)
Olsen Olsen (1998 Demo)
Ágætis byrjun (1998 Demo)
Hugmynd 1 (1998 Demo)
Hugmynd 2 (1998 Demo)
Hugmynd 3 (1998 Demo)
Debata mandire (Live at Laugardashöll, 1999)
Rafmagnið búið (From Ný batterí EP, 2000)
2 x LP – Live Íslenska Óperan 1999 (90 minutes):-
Viðrar vel til loftárása
2 x LP – Original album
4 x CD:
1 x Rarities / 2 x Live Íslenska Óperan 1999 + Rarities / 1 x Original album
2 x LP:
Original album + download code of Demos and Rarities + Live Íslenska Óperan 1999