Riceboy Sleeps – Review by The Economist

Jónsi & Alex is a collaborative art project between Sigur Rós frontman Jón Thor Birgisson (aka, Jónsi) and Alex Somers, his visual artist/musician boyfriend. Together they have just released their debut album, “Riceboy Sleeps”. While Sigur Rós, an Icelandic post-rock quartet, has created some of the most glacially paced music of the last decade, this drifting collection of cloud-like ambiences and moon-slow devotionals manages to make their albums sound like rave-ups in a techno tent.

Thematic and sonic crossovers between the two projects abound: a quest for musical transcendence; the use of choirs and strings (including amiina, a quartet that regularly appears on Sigur Rós records); indulgent song lengths (half the songs are between seven and nine minutes); and signature studio tricks, such as reversing, overdubbing and the use of found sounds.

But there are none of Sigur Rós’s soaring, epic peaks; none of the intensifying rhythms or expansive crescendos. All the elements here–-100% organic and mixed down on a raw food commune in the middle of a Hawaiian rainforest by the way–-are intertwined democratically into fibrous layers that stretch out to shimmering infinity. Even Jónsi’s voice, by far the most potent weapon in the Sigur Rós arsenal, is used mainly as a textural element.

The record begins with the yearning, string-laden nine-minute opus “Happiness”, previously heard on the excellent “Dark Was The Night” charity compilation for the Red Hot Organization. Given how seriously Jónsi takes his music, this song is probably a sincere attempt at emotional representation. But while it’s an undeniably bewitching piece, it’s difficult to see how this most elusive and ephemeral of all human states can justify such a lengthy duration.

“Atlas Song” weaves together processed vocals, strings and whirling organ melodies into a diaphanous eight minutes that recall the celestial sway of the aurora borealis. The two-part “Indian Summer” continues the Zen mood with a lugubrious piano melody that’s eventually co-opted by a string section and carried to rapturous conclusion by Jónsi’s vocals–the only time on the album that they’re used to such maximal effect.

There’s an almost sacrosanct feel to the album in places. “Boy 1904” utilises recordings of the last ever castrato to create something way beyond mesmerising, and “Daniell In The Sea” makes similarly hypnotic use of the Kopavogsdaetur Choir.

But for all its apparent ethereality this is not a traditional “ambient” album. The rippling “Stokkseyri”, the hazy “All The Big Trees”, which bristles with found sounds and background static, the quasi-climactic builds and animal grunts of “Howl” –and even the groaning boughs of the woozy finale ‘Sleeping Giant’ are all too ‘busy’ to qualify as mere background or wallpaper music.

Sure you could pull some yoga moves or even meditate to it. But pop “Riceboy Sleeps” into your headphones and you’ll discover an idyllic labour of love that’s rich in glistening detail.

Paul Sullivan

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