Valgeir Sigurðsson - Ekvîlibrîum
George Bass 21/06/2007
Valgeir Sigurðsson is a man whose head is screwed on tighter than a cross-threaded pen lid five seconds into an English exam. Musically speaking, at least. As an engineer and sessions producer, his CV reads like a stroll down some indie sidestreet of Hollywood Boulevard, with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Björk being two of the brightest stars he can call upon as character references. Ekvîlibrîum sees him taking the plunge as a standalone musician, donning his soundman lab coat to tackle the Icelandic awe previously colonised by the likes of Múm, Sigur Rós et al. The result may seem a long way in the distance, but it's a manoeuvre executed with the Olympic beauty of Lara Croft doing a swan dive, and one that engraves the V_S initials firmly into the First Album hi scores plaque.
Stopwatching himself to a frugal forty-nine minutes, Sigurðsson sews a spectrum of genres into a futuristic tapestry that's lined with classical edges, calling in a couple of accomplices to help him lick the thread through the needle eye of his stylus. Kin, one of two featured collaborations with the elusive Will Oldham, sparkles with electric piano dreaminess that occasionally lapses into juddering, tremorlike choruses. The Prince's dialect is every bit as lovelorn as you'd expect, obviously comfortable working with his former ops man, and the crystalline orchestra that takes the place of his familiar folky guitar gives his Old Testament lyrics a fresh, experimental flavour, morish as fruitburst chewing gum. J. Walker of Machine Translations gets the next look-in at the mic on Baby Architect, where some wavery acoustic schlock pastes the bones of an orthodox song structure deep into styrofoam-white noise. 'This is how the whole thing falls together', exclaims Walker during the apex of the slurred rhythm, words which read like assembly instructions when proffered against the billions of bits that make up the LP's ten tracks.
The guest vocalists never outstay their welcome for long, and Sigurðsson passes the electronica litmus test of creating capable instrumentals with flying colours, evidently flexing the muscles he's honed during his studio QC duty. On opener A Symmetry, he lets foghorny droids square off with a disco hiccup that'd make LCD Soundsystem bob faster than a pummice stone in the Playboy jauzzi, while album centrepiece Equilibrium Is Restored clocks in at a risky eight-and-a-half minutes, softening the tempo to shimmer that rivals the opening quarter of Boards Of Canada's Everything You Do Is A Balloon. Minimalist post-rock a la Greg Haines provides the tail end for the movement, but the footloose funk that serves as the record's spine isn't kept on the shelf for long, with Focal Point describing a slowly unfurling music box where the shrill sharps and flats are housed in some thorny blip-hop.
It's Sigurðsson loyalty to his cinematic doctrine that shines through in the end, though, and he storyboards some truly fantastic scenes on more than one occasion. Winter Sleep, which breathes Dr Jekyll's potion fumes into The Snowman's Slush Puppy, is as dark and icy as a slow-motion stumble into a midnight fish pond, and the 'Mogwai writing music for silent film' send-off of Lungs, For Merrilee, which almost collapses under the power of its own trembling beauty, gives the album a pitch-perfect conclusion.
In an era where The Next Big Thing has to have its nose hammered for dud potential before it's allowed off the assembly line, Valgeir Sigurðsson delivers his bonded masterpiece with the surefire professionalism of Michael Mann before he got gazumped on Heat. Instead of opening the floodgates and swamping the listener with a lifetime's worth of ideas, he lets his years of soundstage perception act as parameters for his first crack as a writer, and expertly magnifies the crux of melodic electronica under a carefully positioned glass slide. If you're looking for a favourite for Album Of The Year, dig out your calendar and fold the September corner over extra hard. Licencing scouts: please form an orderly queue. Everyone else: prepare to be dazzled.