Ágætis byrjun

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Ágætis byrjun
Studio album by Sigur Rós
Released12 June 1999 (1999-06-12)
RecordedAugust 1998–April 1999
LabelFat Cat, Smekkleysa
ProducerKen Thomas
Sigur Rós chronology
Ágætis byrjun
( )
Singles from Ágætis byrjun
  1. "Svefn-g-englar"
    Released: 21 July 1999
  2. "Ný batterí"
    Released: 20 March 2000

Ágætis byrjun (Icelandic: [ˈaːucaitɪs ˈpɪrjʏn], A good beginning)[1] is the second studio album by Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, released on 12 June 1999. The album was recorded between the summer of 1998 and the spring of 1999 with producer Ken Thomas. Ágætis byrjun represented a substantial departure from the band's previous album Von, with that album's extended ambient soundscapes replaced by Jónsi Birgisson's now signature cello-bowed guitarwork and lush orchestration, using a double string octet amongst other chamber elements.

Ágætis byrjun became Sigur Rós's breakthrough album, both commercially and critically. It received a 2000 release in the United Kingdom and a 2001 release in the United States. According to their label Smekkleysa, the album has sold 10,000 copies to date in Iceland, earning the band platinum status.[2] It won numerous awards, and has appeared on multiple critics' lists of the best albums of the 2000s.

Ágætis byrjun is the band's last album to feature the drummer Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson, who left the band several months after the album was released. He was replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason in the same year, and also their first album to feature keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson.


Logo on the album cover in the font ShelleyAllegro BT

The ten songs on the album include some self-reference: the introduction contains backmasked parts from the title track, and the last song, "Avalon", consists of a different take of an instrumental passage from "Starálfur" slowed to around a quarter of its original speed. The strings in "Starálfur" are palindromic; they are the same forwards and backwards.

All vocals are sung in Icelandic, except for those on "Olsen Olsen" and the last section of the title track, which are sung in the gibberish language Vonlenska. Sigur Rós' subsequent album, ( ), used Vonlenska exclusively for its vocals.


The album's title came from a friend hearing the first song they had written for the album, which would become the title track. After hearing the song, he said it was "a good beginning"; the name stuck. The name has also been translated as "An alright start."

The sketch on the cover was drawn by Gotti Bernhöft with a Bic Cristal ballpoint pen.[3] The booklet cover for the CD edition of the album features the line: "Ég gaf ykkur von sem varð að vonbrigðum... þetta er ágætis byrjun" which translates to "I gave you (plural) hope that became a disappointment... this is a good beginning".[1] This line is a reference to their two previous releases, Von and Von brigði.

Sigur Rós assembled and glued together the cases of the first print of Ágætis byrjun themselves. As a result, many of the CDs were unusable due to glue stains.[3]


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[5]
The Austin Chronicle5/5 stars[6]
The Boston Phoenix3.5/4 stars[7]
The Guardian3/5 stars[8]
Q4/5 stars[11]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[12]
The Village VoiceB[14]

While released to little fanfare, the album quickly gained radio exposure in Iceland, and spent the autumn of 1999 climbing the Icelandic album charts, finally resting at the top for a number of weeks. After surprising success in Iceland, the album subsequently gained strong international buzz with numerous articles in many prominent publications, hype from internet message boards and blogs, as well as often exuberant critical praise. Ágætis byrjun was released in the United Kingdom in 2000, and in the North American market in 2001 by Fat Cat Records.[15] In 2001, Ágætis byrjun won the inaugural Shortlist Music Prize.

An acclaimed music video was made for "Viðrar vel til loftárása". The album's tracks have also been featured in soundtracks; "Starálfur" was used in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou[16] and the Emmy winning 2005 TV film The Girl in the Café. "Svefn-g-englar" was used in Vanilla Sky, amongst others. The song "Flugufrelsarinn" has been arranged by Stephen Prustman for the Kronos Quartet, and is available on their download-only release Kronos Quartet Plays Sigur Rós.

Ágætis byrjun was placed by Pitchfork at number 2 on their annual Best Albums list for 2000, and was placed at 8 on their top 200 albums of the 2000s, released on 2 October 2009.[17]

In December 2009, Rolling Stone ranked Ágætis byrjun the 29th best album of the 2000s.[18]

In the Q and Mojo Classic Special Edition "Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock", the album placed at number 27 in its list of "40 Cosmic Rock Albums".

The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[19]

It was announced in 2009 that a deluxe edition would be released to mark the 10th anniversary of Ágætis byrjun's international release.[20] It is slated for release in early summer 2015. It will feature previously unheard studio and live recordings as well as photographic and documentary material from their personal archives.

Ágætis byrjun peaked at No. 24 on Billboard's Top Independent Albums chart in January and as of 2008 it has sold 227,000 copies in the U.S. to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[21] In Europe it was upgraded to Platinum by Impala award for 400,000+ copies sold up to 2012.[22]

Track listing[edit]

No.TitleEnglish translation[*]Length
1."Intro" ([23]) 1:36
2."Svefn-g-englar""Sleep(walk)ing Angels"10:03
3."Starálfur""Staring Elf"6:45
4."Flugufrelsarinn""The Fly's Savior"7:47
5."Ný batterí""New Batteries"8:09
6."Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm)""The Heart Pounds (boom boom boom)"7:09
7."Viðrar vel til loftárása""Good Weather for an Airstrike"10:16
8."Olsen Olsen" 8:02
9."Ágætis byrjun""An Alright Start"7:55
10."Avalon" 4:01
Total length:71:43
  • * English translations not official.


Release history[edit]

Country Date Label Format Catalogue Notes
Iceland June 1999 Smekkleysa CD SM79CD
United Kingdom 11 August 2000 Fat Cat 2LP FATLP11
United States 22 May 2001 PIAS CD PIASA 01-02
United Kingdom 9 March 2009 Fat Cat 2LP FATLP11X 180g vinyl, DMM

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[24] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[25] none 227,000[21]^
Europe (IFPI)[26] none 400,000[22]*

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ a b "sigur rós - lyrics". sigur-ros.co.uk. Retrieved 4 January 2009.
  2. ^ Steinarsson, Birgir Orn (Sep 30, 2000). "International: Fat Cat's Sigur Rós Stakes Claim for Independence". Billboard - The International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment. 50 (120.26): 90.
  3. ^ a b "sigur rós - trivia". sigur-ros.co.uk. Retrieved 4 January 2009.
  4. ^ "Reviews for Ágætis Byrjun by Sigur Rós". Metacritic. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  5. ^ Carlson, Dean. "Ágætis Byrjun – Sigur Rós". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  6. ^ Chamy, Michael (8 June 2001). "Sigur Rós: Ágætis Byrjun (PIAS)". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  7. ^ Endelman, Michael (12–19 July 2001). "Sigur Rós: Agaetis Byrjun (Fat Cat)". The Boston Phoenix. Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Caroline (11 August 2000). "Sigur Ros: Agaetis Byrjun (FatCat)". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  9. ^ Chick, Stevie (14 August 2000). "Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun". NME. Archived from the original on 10 March 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  10. ^ DiCrescenzo, Brent (1 June 1999). "Sigur Rós: Agaetis Byrjun". Pitchfork. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  11. ^ Maconie, Stuart. "Sigur Rós: Ágætis Byrjun". Q. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  12. ^ Blashill, Pat (28 September 2000). "Agaetis Byrjun: Sigur Ros". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2 May 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  13. ^ Gross, Jason (October 2000). "Sigur Rós: Agaetis byrjun". Spin. 16 (10): 177–78. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (15 January 2002). "Consumer Guide: Popstakes". The Village Voice. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  15. ^ The Mojo Collection: 4th Edition. Canongate Books. 2007. p. 672. ISBN 184767643X.
  16. ^ "eighteen seconds before sunrise - sigur rós news » 2004» November» 29". sigur-ros.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
  17. ^ Pitchfork staff (2 October 2009). "The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s: 20-1". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  18. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Decade". Rolling Stone. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2009-12-20.
  19. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (23 March 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2.
  20. ^ "sigur rós » discography » ágætis byrjun » ordering info & deluxe edition". Eighteen Seconds Before Sunrise, the Official Sigur Rós News Source. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
  21. ^ a b http://uk.reuters.com/article/music-sigur-dc-idUKN2035222520080620
  22. ^ a b http://www.impalamusic.org/node/163
  23. ^ The album's packaging leaves the first track untitled, though the band's website gives the piece the name "Intro". It has also been referred to by the band as "Nujryb sitægá"[citation needed] ("Ágætis byrjun" spelled backwards.)
  24. ^ "British album certifications – Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Ágætis byrjun in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  25. ^ "American album certifications – Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 
  26. ^ "IFPI Platinum Europe Awards – 2010". International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 13, 2014.

External links[edit]