In every genre of art, the difference between the good and the great is the level of balance one can achieve. The crazy with the restrained, the industrial with the organic, the esoteric with the mainstream: true artistry comes with knowing how to walk that fine line. In his new solo album, Go, Jónsi Birgisson creates a sound that is equally impressive and more accessible than anything he’s done previously. In other words, a thing of beauty.

You’d think it would be impossible to live up to and be able to move beyond a sound so unfailingly epic as that created by Sigur Rós.

Yet Jónsi’s voice is really what propels the album forward, as his amazing high-pitched tenor can, within a few minutes, lift your spirits and send them crashing down in much the same way that he has done for years. It is his voice that shines through the lilting, thumping, clashing, whirring, and oftentimes fickle musical backdrop.

Yet his vocals have always been impressive. What makes this album wonderful is that finally, the man’s creative process is becoming more concise, varied and understandable. None of the songs span longer than five and a half minutes (as compared to his previous albums with Sigur Rós where eleven minutes would be considered par for the course). He also touches on some other genres (well, he almost raps).  And most of it is in very understandable English, shying away from the Icelandic dialect and gibberish that characterized his earlier work.

It’s not surprising that his music is as spectacularly idiosyncratic as it is. His life is full of idiosyncrasies. Jónsi is Icelandic, openly gay and blind in one eye (his right one, as it turns out).

Jónsi is representative of what we would all like to achieve: he’s proud of what makes him unique; he bravely struck out from a place of comfort with Sigur Rós to (successfully) pursue a solo project; and he presents himself with just the right balance of style, playfulness and humor. Whether or not he’s with his Icelandic cohorts, Jónsi is still an artist to look out for.

– Max Kessler