Though it has been largely off the radar, Iceland's Sigur Rós is no less majestic in 2007 than when it first broke worldwide a few years ago. The band returns with this month's two-EP set Hvarf/Heim and concert/documentary DVD Heima, as essential as anything in the group's catalogue. Hvarf unearths three songs lost in the shuffle up till now, each heavy with orchestra-swept ambience and saturated with shivering emotion. Best are "Hljómalind" — on which angelic Jónsi Birgisson almost sounds like he's singing in English for once (he's not) — and drastic reimaginings of the older "Von" and "Hafsol," each averaging 10 minutes of slow-building instrumental power.
Songs from all four Sigur Rós albums get the acoustic treatment on Heim, since the band played outdoors in remote parts of Iceland that lacked electricity. This unannounced string of free shows is the basis for the feature-length film Heima, as dreamy, uplifting, and weirdly universal as the band itself. A valentine to Iceland as well as a snapshot of Sigur Rós, the film could do wonders for the country's tourism industry. Shots of the bleakly beautiful scenery flutter throughout the jaw-dropping performances, with adorable children playing at the beach and flying impossibly red kites. Meanwhile, in interviews, Sigur Rós members lament the business side of music and discuss an acoustic show protesting the building of a hydroelectric dam in the Icelandic countryside. By the end, it's clear their music is as transcendent for them to play as it is for us to hear, and watching them against such backdrops is magical beyond words.
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