Iceland is a magical place. The landscape conjures up the type of imagery you can only imagine seeing in your dreams and their arts and culture is equally beguiling. Known for the type of ethereal personalities such as Bjork and Jonsi, it would easily be forgiven for some to believe that Iceland exists on a completely different planet separate from our known world. Who knows if it’s growing up around such stunning vistas or so disconnected from the rest of the world that makes these artists this way but, regardless, it is so distinct that it is definitely something to be celebrated. In the case of Jonsi, who rose to prominence with post rock trailblazers Sigur Ros and came into his own on the strength of his celebrated solo debut, 2010’s Go, crafts the type of soundtracks that make you question what it must be like to be from this enchanted isle. A decade on from his acclaimed debut, Jonsi has returned with his sophomore follow up, the dense and seductive Shiver. The record is a collaboration with artist, musician, producer and PC Music label head AG Cook and the pairing couldn’t be more perfect. On Go, Jonsi explored his connection with the natural world, relying on composer Nico Muhly and his proclivity with brass, wind and string arrangements, but now with Cook acting as his co-pilot, Jonsi embraces the synthetic world. Replete with a dichotomy that swings between otherworldly beauty and mechanical mayhem, while featuring magnificent guest turns from Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins and Robyn, Shiver is a lovingly crafted album that allows Jonsi to continue to explore the depths of the human experience but pushes his aesthetic palette into new territories.
From the moment the soft haze of “Exhale” kicks in you are immediately transported to the world that Jonsi and Cook want you to exist in for the next hour. Jonsi’s voice has always been the centrepiece of all his compositions and rightfully so. That gorgeous falsetto has the ability to literally pick you up and carry you off but now it’s doused in vocoder and smothered in an ever deepening pool of delay. Even so, it still has the ability to immediately electrify. Title track “Shiver” continues the trend started with “Exhale”, synths pulsate and surround you as Jonsi floats between it all until, subtly, the chorus kicks in and a distinct presence takes over before it immediately dissolves back into the celestial verse. It doesn’t seem like much is happening but the sophisticated slightness of the change actually makes it more profound. “Cannibal” shakes up the proceedings with the wonderful addition of Elizabeth Fraser. Over gently strummed guitar and airy synth pads, Jonsi leans into the slow burn and when Fraser bursts out in the second chorus with a lovely counterpoint vocal melody, the effect is absolutely goosebump inducing. “Wildeye” explores the more glitched, mechanical side of the PC Music oeuvre. The blend of industrial and hyper pop, with some absolutely cavernous bass bumps, add a new and welcome dimension to the record. While this type of dynamic may come off on the more abrasive side for many other artists, Jonsi finds a nice balance and manages to bring some light to the inherent darkness of the production. “Kôrall” starts out as a nice slice of blissed out pop but finds itself elevated by Jonsi’s gorgeous harmonies. Again, even with the amount of effect layered upon his instrument, Jonsi finds a way of making it the thing you can always hold onto, no matter the myriad directions the track takes to get to its worthwhile climax. Robyn shows up on “Salt Licorice” with some beautifully fuzzed out thump-y bass hits. As always with Robyn, it’s an absolute treat when she shows up and this collaboration establishes the most flat out pop anthem featured on the record. “Swill” sets up the denouement of the record with an earworm of a vocal melody and a ton of tension that will pull your heart right into your throat where it will remain for the remainder of the song. The record comes to a thrilling yet quiet conclusion with “Beautiful Boy” and its gently abrasive end.
Jonsi has said in the past that he has the type of personality that gets bored quickly and he likes to keep things exciting with his musical endeavours, or he will move on. It may have taken him a decade to find something new that he wanted to make his direct follow up to Go but Shiver is definitely worth the wait. It’s a pretty natural evolution for Jonsi to explore this exciting new aesthetic and his work here with Cook manages to make the ideas he is exploring hit a bit harder, even when the record is at its most gentle. Shiver is a treat of an album that gives you so much to explore. It will keep you busy into the colder winter months and presumably keep you warm with dreams of Iceland and all its magical inhabitants.