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Sigur Ros: Gloom And Grandiose Pummeling

This past June, the artily adventurous Icelandic band Sigur Ros released Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, an album surprisingly well suited to the giddy thrills of summertime. The whimsically titled opening track, "Gobbledigook," heralded a work of uncharacteristic impishness, which was refreshing coming from a group known largely for portentous austerity and inscrutability.

Of course, it's December now, and Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust has just been reissued in deluxe (read: more expensive) form. Which makes this an excellent time to revisit the disc and soak up just how terrific it remains during those times when it reverts to good old-fashioned portentous austerity and inscrutability. "Festival" may sport one of Sigur Ros' few English titles, but it's a wondrously majestic epic, as weird and sprawling and soaring as it is accessibly beautiful.

Spanning nine-plus minutes, "Festival" treads familiar structural ground, building from falsetto-fueled gloom to an ominously rumbling swell, right into a lengthy round of grandiose pummeling that'd make Godspeed You Black Emperor proud. In context, it still fits nicely within an album praised for its concision and unexpected playfulness. But as a stone-serious stand-alone piece, it's a fierce and satisfying gem, as muscular as it is graceful.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)