2000-2004 – Frakkur: Jónsi’s private playground of experimental electronica
Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson has never been an easy man to pin down. While he is best known as the bowed guitar-wielding spectre behind one of the world’s biggest post-rock outfits (Sigur Rós), his creative restlessness means we never have long to wait before new material surfaces in one form or another. This time, however, the sheer improbability of Jónsi’s latest release under the moniker Frakkur (meaning bold or courageous in Icelandic) really does make it seem like a gift from the Norse gods.
From 2000, he began a series of left-field electro experiments; new songs taking shape at his home in Reykjavík, or behind the curtain on Sigur Rós’s Ágætis Byrjun tour. This process would continue slowly over the following years with the aid of trusty old-school PCs, various computer programmes and even second-hand toys.
The fruits of these largely private labours were, until now, thought to have been permanently lost; fallen victim to a corrupted hard drive. It was only recently that friends of Jónsi’s boyfriend and frequent artistic collaborator Alex Somers stumbled across the songs on old CDs that had been given as gifts. Now, after remastering, the recovered material has yielded twenty-five tracks over three distinct albums, all collected on this latest release, Frakkur 2000-2004.
The first collection, from around 2000-2001, is said to recount a tale of “unrequited love for a straight boy at home in Reykjavík”. Listening with hindsight in 2018, the thematic thread that holds this first disk together comes as no surprise from an artist who has since scored two films on his own and a contributed to various other TV and motion picture soundtracks with others. These tracks launch us into Jónsi’s private playground of idiosyncratic electronica. They are built around short, glimmering musical phrases that accumulate strange percussion and synth lines as they progress. Later, harmonies start to creep in; a shift that culminates on the fully blissed-out, 8-minute-long closer ‘Sftlb9’.
In a stark change of mood on disk two, Jónsi throws us from heartbreak headlong into a period “filled with blinding sunlight and pure fun creative energy”. As per one of his greatest strengths as a musician, the enigmatic Icelander is able to translate said sunlight into the next eight tracks which radiate warmth and exuberance. This second collection owes its existence to a vintage Yamaha RS700 synth and his eye for a bargain in the second-hand toy shop; the playful results of which are particularly striking on standout track ‘Tb2’.
With the final instalment of the triple-album comes a certain degree of familiarity. Although this is still quite a way from anything Jónsi has ever produced in his “day job” with Sigur Rós, it is a clear relative of 2005’s Takk with added moments of the same ethereal transcendence that characterised the earlier (). This 2003-2004 collection was made using the programme Logic – a favourite of Alex Somers – and a toy keyboard, to which we owe the more abundant vocal samples on this last disk. The flickering, falsetto-laced ‘Pp6’ sounds like it could flow almost seamlessly into Sigur Rós favourite ‘Glósóli’.
While this offbeat trilogy won’t be smashing chart records any time soon, it undoubtedly makes for an interesting and rewarding listen for anyone familiar with Jónsi’s work. Its distinctly experimental sound and the knowledge that these tracks were not originally meant for commercial release make it a rare chance to feel closer to the man behind the shroud of spectral secrecy.