Everything is relative when you're talking about epic Icelandic space rock. But something very strange happens in the 49th minute of Sigur Rós' fifth album, Med Sud í Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust. After nearly a decade of relating joy, anguish, and various other emotions in a customized tongue that may as well be Neptunian, singer Jonsi Birgisson suddenly reveals that he is indeed one of us — not just human, but a speaker of the English language. "I wanted to know what I had to know," he sings mournfully over the sparse horn and piano tune of "All Alright." The linguistic shift hits you like a ton of bricks.
"All Alright" is a somewhat somber closer for what is easily Sigur Rós' most energized CD. But it fits with the band's new efforts to tear down the curtain between itself and its fervid fans. Med Sud í Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (With a Buzz in Our Ears, We Play Endlessly, for those of you who don't speak Sigur Rós) takes the group's pop a step farther out than on 2005's Takk — often sacrificing some of its trademark temple-sized atmospherics for a freer, punchier sound, more reminiscent of Animal Collective (particularly on album opener "Gobbledigook"). But before you start throwing around words like "stripped down" to describe the new Sigur Rós, be aware that one cut features a 90-piece orchestral and choral accompaniment. So rest assured, the epics live on. — Andrew Clayman