about ágætis byrjun
credits & tracklisting
recording ágætis byrjun
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rumbling, pings, tjúúúú, palindromic strings, bjargvættur, the coughing brass intro, bamm bamm bamm, the crecendo, the flute, the simplicity, and it fades out. press play again.
a lot of people have one album that changes their lives, something that in some way alters everything after the first moment the hear it. ágætis byrjun is that album for a lot of people and today, june 12th 2009, it celebrates its tenth birthday.
ágætis byrjun, a good beginning, is actually sigur rós' second beginning. three years previously they released their debut album, von. after that the trio became a quartet and they evolved into something astounding. as suggested by a lyric from ágætis byrjun's title track, sigur rós had bigger ambitions after releasing von:
við munum gera betur næst / þetta er ágætis byrjun (we will do better next time / this is a good beginning)
sigur rós began hastily recording ágætis byrjun in august 1998, with a release date set for october 1998. they soon realised they would never be satisfied with the quality of the album in time for the release. they bought themselves some time to fine-tune the record and the release date was changed to june 12th 1999, a date which miraculously stuck. (see ási's memories for the inside story on the album's production and release.)
on the 12th of june 1999 at the icelandic opera house in reykjavík, the album was launched. typically the band's setlist that night consisted of many songs that weren't on ágætis byrjun - songs for another time. but it didn't matter - ágætis byrjun was the album that was played over and over again and over time word of it spread far and wide. ágætis byrjun would become sigur rós's breakthrough album.
ágætis byrjun gradually grew into a huge commercial success in iceland, remaining in the top charts for over 2 years. dave and alex from fat cat records had had their eye on sigur rós since 1998 and quickly signed the band to their label following ágætis byrjun's release (see dave's memories). the first indication of the critical acclaim the album would receive abroad came with the release of the svefn-g-englar ep in september 1999. ecstatic reviews began emerging and gushes like "the last great band of the twentieth century" and "like god weeping tears of gold in heaven" were not uncommon. ágætis byrjun became available to the rest of the world in 2000 when fat cat released the album in the uk, and in 2001 when pias recordings released the album in north america (see manager john's memories).
ágætis byrjun was an album that came literally out of nowhere and seemed to tug at the heartstrings of those who least expected it. no one expected an album by an unknown band of four shy icelandic men in their early twenties, singing in icelandic, would become the worldwide music phenomenon it became. the record label projected the album to sell 1500 copies - it has to date sold several million copies. suddenly the band's tongue-in-cheek claim on their website in 1999 didn't seem so crazy after all:
"we do not intend to become superstars or millionaires. we are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music."
- sigur-ros.co.uk staff, 2009