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Sigur Rós

There are four naked people running on the cover of Sigur Rós' new album, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (translation: With a buzz in our ears, we play endlessly). This would be a subversive move for nearly any other act, but not this one. The nudity-as-innocence implication is inherent in Sigur Rós' work, consistent in the band's earnest, childlike ethos--but this time, it takes on a whole new element: the spontaneous and often stripped-down way the band chose to record these songs.

Inspired by the series of free and often unplugged shows it performed (chronicled in the 2007 documentary/album Heima), the Icelandic quartet shook things up by recording outside of its native country for the first time, using English lyrics for the first time and, most noticeably, leaving the polish off its recordings despite the presence of bells-and-whistles rock producer Flood (The Killers). Though some tracks feature orchestras--"Ára Batur" employs 90 musicians--most of the others tone down the bombast or trade in the effects for a nails-against-the-strings acoustic aesthetic. Glorious stomper "Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur" sounds like Mercury Rev without the psychedelia, and "Inni" is pure euphoria, destined to be a live favorite.

The last half of the album is solid balladry, whereas 2005's stunning Takk ... and 1999's breakthrough Agaetis Byrjun evenly distributed its upbeat and down-tempo tracks. But, as they say, this is a change year, and Sigur Rós is following suit.

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