In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about great songs not sung in English.
Sometimes a song doesn’t need comprehensible words to make sense. Sigur Rós excels at translating pure feeling into music; frontman Jónsi made up the language Vonlenska (Hopelandic in English) as “a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music and acts as another instrument.” Somewhat similarly, artists hum future vocalizations over instrumentals; other times they scat their way through a verse. An entire song done this way escapes constricting words in favor of the mood over the literal. For people who don’t speak Icelandic (the world’s population minus the 300,000 or so native speakers), that language rendered through Sigur Rós’ sensibilities yields similar results. The second track of 2008’s Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur,” is pure joyful catharsis in a language that might as well be made up for those who don’t speak it.
A quiet, fuzzy horn intro is quickly followed by keys, which then quickly launches into the rapidly moving, lush song. Like much of the product from Sigur Rós and Jónsi, energy and spirit are conveyed through frenetic instrumentation; accompanying lyrics only add to the celestial noise. Without the specific meaning that derives from comprehensible words, listeners are free to fill in the lyrics with their own imagining. I resist looking up the translations, both because I can listen to it while I work without the words distracting me and because there’s something comforting in not knowing what they mean. It’s like taking in an entire sky instead of looking for shapes in clouds; rather than get bogged down in the minutia of what this lyric means or that word signifies, I can meditate on the whole feeling I get from the song, which is one of undiluted joy.