It’s been nearly 40 years since Roland Barthes first theorized what he called the “grain of the voice.” And whether or not you’re familiar with his famous essay, I think it’s fair to say that the idea, if not necessarily the vocabulary, has wormed its way well into the collective critical consciousness by this point. For Barthes, the “grain” was the “body in the voice as it sings.” Not, or not merely, timbre: the “grain” of a voice, if it has one, consists precisely in the irreducibility of its significance, its weight, to the conventions of technique, style, or genre. Simon Frith famously heard grain in Elvis. “In the end,” he wrote, “this is the only way to explain his appeal: not in terms of what he ‘stood for,’ socially or personally, but by reference to the grain of the voice.” For Frith, Elvis celebrated “more sensuously, more voluptuously than any other rock ‘n’ roll singer — the act of symbol creation itself.” Grain, in other words, is the difference between James Brown and his backing singers, between Frank Sinatra and the Boobster. The shame with Billy Holiday was that she ended up having too much of it. With Sigur Rós, we celebrate Jónsi’s delivery precisely because his voice has none. The brilliance of his voice, in other words, is precisely the fact that it manages to sound disembodied.
As usual, you can find the rest of the view on TMT.
Here's some footage. Just in case you're wondering what the hell I'm going on about: