The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #278: Svefn-g-englar by Sigur Ros (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #278: Svefn-g-englar by Sigur Ros.

When it comes to movies, I have a soft spot in my heart for foreign films. Some of my favourite finds have been movies that have won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, such as “Cinema Paradiso” in 1988 and “Babette’s Feast” in 1989. I, also, have loved other, English-language foreign films such as Ireland’s, “Waking Ned Devine”, the Australian classic, “Breaker Morant”, too. There seems to be an extra layer of mystery to foreign films because of the language barrier than I have to navigate past, as well as, the cultural references which colour the movie and which, in many cases, are unknown or are different from my own experiences. I love uniqueness and innovation and creativity and I can usually count on successful foreign movies to provide me with my fix.

In the mid 1980s, there was a film from Spain that, when translated into English, was titled, “Open Your Eyes”. It was directed by Spanish director, Alejandro Amenabar and starred, among others, the lovely and talented actress, Penelope Cruz. The movie was an examination about dreams and perceptions of reality. “Open Your Eyes” won many International awards so, not surprisingly, Hollywood came sniffing around, wanting to make a version for North American audiences (because, apparently, North American audiences won’t sit through subtitles). So, anyway, Tom Cruise became involved and soon, a North Americanized version of “Open Your Eyes”, called, “Vanilla Sky” was made. The movie was directed by Cameron Crowe and starred Cruise, along with Penelope Cruz reprising her role (but, in English, of course). The movie stayed relatively faithful to the Spanish plot line. While “Vanilla Sky” was met with mixed reviews by North American audiences (who found the plot confusing to follow), one of the big “discoveries” was an Icelandic music group called Sigur Ros. In one of the climactic scenes in the movie, their song, “Svefn-g-englar” debuted as background music to the scene. The song blew everyone away! Here is the story of “Svefn-g-englar” by Sigur Ros, including why it is a song you didn’t know you needed to hear.

Sigur Ros are, next to Bjork, herself, Iceland’s most successful and well-known musical artists. The band consists of lead singer, Jonsi Birgisson, bassist, Georg Holm, drummer, Agust AEvar Gunnarson and a whole of others who appear, as needed, to flesh out the ethereal, orchestral sound that Sigur Ros is famous for. The song, “Svefn-g-englar” is sung entirely in a combination of Icelandic and Hopelandic languages. *Hopelandic is a self-made language by the band in which the syllables of the words they used are meant to augment the music they are playing with their instruments. In essence, they use their voices as an additional musical instrument. Roughly translated, the title, “Svegn-g-englar” means “Sleepwalkers and Angels”. That theme corresponds with the theme of the movie, “Open Your Eyes/Vanilla Sky” which deals with dreams and sleep and waking up to see if the scene before your is real or part of a dreamscape. The closest musical equivalent I can give to you for this song would be “Pink Floyd” but, having said that, it strikes me like what I expect Heaven to sound like should I be so lucky as to ascend to the Pearly Gates and be welcomed inside. If your mind is prepped properly (Cannabis edibles anyone?), when you hear this song, you will see it three-dimensionally in the shape of the Aurora Borealis. It is definitely not a song that will tell you a story but, it is an epic song (stretched over 10 minutes) that will fill your imagination and move your heart in ways that are unexpected and that will leave you changed for having heard such music.

I will include a live performance of the song, as well as, a snippet from a trailer to a newer movie called, “Beautiful Boy” starring Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carrell, in which a shorter, more condensed version of “Svefn-g-englar” is used. As a soundtrack or as a stand-alone song, “Svefn-g-englar” by Sigur Ros stands out as being an incredibly lovely and moving piece of music. It will test the limits of what many define modern music as being but, make no mistake, it is unique and important and is a piece of music that will always move people in ways that transcend time. Just like the movie, “Open Your Eyes/Vanilla Sky” that helped bring it to the attention of North American audiences did, too. I hope that you enjoy discovering it as much as I did several decades ago. Icelandic music rules! 🙂Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Svefn-g-englar” by Sigur Ros, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie, “Beautiful Boy” which, also, makes use of the song, “Svefn-g-englar”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sigur Ros, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting great music from the four corners of the world. The link to their amazing website can be found here.