Named in part after a sister of one of the bandmembers, Reykjavik, Iceland's Sigur Rós (Victory Rose) was formed by guitarist and vocalist Jon Thor Birgisson, bassist Georg Holm, and drummer Agust. Formed in early 1994 while the members were teenagers, the trio's first recorded song earned them a deal with Iceland's Bad Taste label. Their sprawling debut LP, Von (Hope), was released in 1997, followed the next year by a collection of remixes from that album, Recycle Bin. Kjartan Sveinsson joined the band on keyboards and the band recorded 1999's strings-heavy Ágætis Byrjun (Good Start), earning themselves numerous accolades in their homeland and achieving platinum status in sales. Agust then departed and was quickly replaced by Orri Páll DýRason.
Svefn-G-Englar, their first release to be distributed outside of their native country, was hailed as NME's Single of the Week during September of 1999, launching a press hype steamroller in the U.K. and -- to a lesser extent -- in the U.S. The "Ný Battery" single was issued in early 2000, the band's breakout year. British independent Fat Cat began distributing the band, stretching their reach beyond Icelanders and rabid journalists. April dates in England with Godspeed You! Black Emperor were capped off by an appearance at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, and they also opened several dates of Radiohead's European tour before year's end.
Sigur Rós spent the first three months of 2001 away from the road, setting up their own studio and making their third album. Meanwhile, Ágætis Byrjun found a label in the U.S. and worldwide press became increasingly positive and varied; both Entertainment Weekly and The Wire ran features on the band. The group began touring again in April, playing more shows in Europe, a handful in the States, and several more in Japan throughout the remainder of the year. By the end of the year, Ágætis Byrjun had won the Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music; it was also declared Iceland's Best Album of the Century.
2002 saw the release of ( ), Sigur Rós' third album. The majority of the material was honed on the road prior to being recorded at Alafoss, the group's studio, located outside Reykjavik. The album featured a raw sound in comparison to its predecessors and scaled back the extreme highs and lows that were prominent on Ágætis Byrjun. Three years later, they released Takk..., featuring some tighter arrangements and brighter tones. [AMG Andy Kellman]