Riceboy Sleeps – Review by BBC Music
In 2006 Sigur Rós frontman Jón Thór (Jónsi) Birgisson and his partner Alex Somers released a picture book, Riceboy Sleeps. Earlier this year the duo’s track Happiness provided one of the standout moments on AIDS-awareness compilation Dark Was The Night, and the same track opens this, the duo’s debut album. That 2006 book, like much of Sigur Rós’s own artwork, was a thing of particular beauty, and so is this.
Riceboy Sleeps is primarily instrumental, working at a level of minimalism that approaches the glacial velocity of drones. The tracks were recorded using acoustic instruments – the beautifully rich string playing of regular Sigur Rós collaborators Amiina is woven throughout – before being digitally remixed and manipulated (at a raw food commune in Hawaii, dietary zealots might be gratified to learn). Those hoping to hear Jónsi’s distinctive vocals here might be disappointed: their only appearance is deep in the mix during the moving climax to Indian Summer.
In terms of atmosphere, this album is first cousin to the most dreamlike sections of Sigur Rós’ back catalogue. As with much of the that band’s string parts, the music shares a mournful beauty with certain works of modern orchestral composers such as Arvo Pärt, Gavin Bryars and Henryk Górecki, or the ambient experiments of Brian Eno. Given these touchstones it’s unsurprising that this album should, at times, be so remarkably reminiscent of post-rock duo Stars of the Lid.
Riceboy Sleeps operates at a heady level of beauty. The string and piano playing is emotionally stirring to begin with, attaining the same achingly mournful emotional register as familiar heartstring molesters like Barber’s Adagio for Strings or the second movement of Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major. It’s the laptop post-production, however, that succeeds in augmenting the music’s effect to sometimes sublime levels. Piano keystrokes hang and shimmer in space, creaks and rattles provoke an odd sense of weightlessness, and the semi-synthesised, heavily reverberated choir parts on Boy 1904 and the extraordinary Daníell In The Sea become labyrinths of sound you never want to gain egress from.