Jónsi - Shiver

A decade between albums is a long time, but the evolution of Jónsi‘s music from Go to Shiver is so profound, it feels like it should be measured in light years instead of the ones marked by calendars. His first solo album, which arrived 16 years after he began changing post-rock with Sigur Rós, was much more pop-oriented than his work with his band, and its pastoral, winsome, yet noble songs could have been the soundtrack to an epic tale from long ago. On Shiver, he takes this fantastical quality in bold new directions, pairing blatantly artificial sounds with emotions that feel more real than ever. To help him with this transformation, Jónsi recruited a small handful of A-list collaborators. Chief among them is executive producer A.G. Cook. Working with PC Music and on his own, Cook knows how to make music that convincingly bridges extremes — bright and shadowy, familiar and unexpected — and taps into the genuine feelings lurking under shiny synthetic surfaces and dense electronic textures. “Hold,” with its layers of processed vocals and ticking percussion, sounds like it could’ve appeared on Cook‘s own album Apple or Charli XCX‘s How I’m Feeling Now. With Cook‘s help, Jónsi heightens Shiver‘s unpredictable sounds and moods. The rhythms are barreling and metallic; the harmonies are radiant; the highs are euphoric; and the lows are fathomless. These quick-shifting sonics make for nimble songs that give equal time to Jónsi‘s tender, fierce, serious, and mischievous sides. “Exhale” begins the album with soothing, open-hearted affirmations (“It isn’t your fault/Just let it go”) that draw listeners in close; on “Swill,” braying brass and elephantine beats give its feeling of triumph a nervy, volatile quality that cuts a wide swath. Considering how striking Jónsi‘s natural voice is, the processed vocals that are a hallmark of Cook‘s work could seem unnecessary, but on Shiver, their plastic, hyper-expressive tones feel both alien and deeply human. Surrounded by choral washes, Jónsi‘s creaky tones give the impression that he’s an ancient being consumed by longing on “Beautiful Boy.” Elsewhere, he’s joined by two other beloved singers who contribute some of the album’s stand-out moments. The stomping, frost-bitten pop of “Salt Licorice,” which features Robyn, makes the most of her expertise at dancing through her tears (or in this case, “Scandinavian pain”) and ends up being a career highlight for everyone involved. On “Cannibal,” Elizabeth Fraser sounds as spine-tingling as ever as she lends a shimmering spirituality to Jónsi‘s visceral carnality. Despite the prominent guest stars and radical musical changes, Shiver‘s focus is always on Jónsi and his innate gift for expressing pure feeling. As he reinvents what is essential to his music, he delivers some previously unimagined thrills.