Album Review: Jónsi – Go Live

Jónsi‘s solo studio release Go felt flat and chilling to me, something equated to the funeral chants of an underachieving choir boy. Moogfest 2010 came and went, and when we found out Jónsi was on the bill, my initial reaction was mixed. But curiosity won out in the end and brought me to witness this so-called prodigious son of Icelandic surrealist act, Sigur Ros. I can tell you firsthand, the performance nearly brought me to tears, and discovering the very same set would be translated to a live album? Let me say it was an early Christmas for us all.

Certain music has a way of connecting to each listener for a cornucopia of reasons, not the least of which is pure emotional submission. Seldom do I recommend a live recording over the studio release, should one be available, because sound quality tends to be a roll of the dice, and audiences like to share the workload on vocals far too often in places. But Jónsi’s Go Live represents, for this writer anyhow, a vibrant defiance of such a standard.

Go Live is a souvenir to those of us who were up close and personal, a surefire win to any who suspected a plain tune-by-tune revival of the source material. From the wanting cries of Jónsi and his acoustic guitar at “Stars In Still Water”, you find yourself transported to a dark, empty forest, with nothing but a dwindling fire and an undisturbed pond nearby, while “Hengilás” follows as a song fit for a hand-fasting in some desolate autumn wilderness. “Icicle Sleeve”, easily the greatest creation Jónsi has ever produced, alternates between a shrill whisper of panic, a drumming heartbeat of desperation, and the cries of a hope gone wild. Rest assured, if “Exit Music (For A Film)” were expanded into an entire kaleidoscope of emotional range, this album would be the end result.

“Kolniður” and “Tornado” come next, a duet of jingles, jangles, and periodic percussion, tempting a sincere celebration of life before “Sinking Friendships” takes a more ethereal, tinkling swan song approach. A trio to behold, the overall vibe during this number is multi-faceted, a fractured but loving renewal of vows to the loved ones we feel growing distant. This is Savage Garden’s “Animal Song”, were it to be elaborated upon by a Native American tribesman and more genuine instrumentation.

Following suit, the latter half of Go Live focuses almost entirely on a positive upswing, ringing in with “Boy Lilikoi” and “Animal Arithmetic”, the heavily piano-reliant “Around Us”, and the stirring chaos of “Sticks And Stones”. Go Live remains on an unwavering constant here of racing spirits, steady chimes, and cymbals, bringing focus away from the lonely Jónsi to his backing band of equally decorative-clad cohorts; after the lengthy close of haunting number “Grow Till Tall”, what amounts to an audible uprising of natural energy begins warming up to you after a long day of mourning, rejoicing, and a solemn hallelujah.

“There, there…”, it implies oh so delicately, “do not fear.”

Sonically, the aesthetic that Go Live brings to the listener is rife with nuances and textures that put you right in front of the stage. It is deeply encouraged that you also procure a copy of the DVD posthaste. The visuals and set pieces from Go Live are absolutely hypnotic: the ring of antique xylophones and tiny pianos, the warm glow of sepia light, the animations, the costumes — absorb it all, and do not leave disappointed. Never in my life have I been gifted with a more accurate revisiting of a live performance, and all thanks to a frail little man from Iceland and his wonderful, magical toys.

Leave it as our raw and piercing Jónsi would leave you — more than human, more than creature. Restless at body, peaceful at mind, burning at heart, and on the brink of a joyful release from sorrow. Go, and live.


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