When I was laid up last week with a bad back and feeling really (really) bored, I found myself spinning some of the bits of crap vinyl I seem to have accumulated over the past few years (Hot tip – want to give me something for my birthday/Xmas? Bargain Basement Vinyl should do it!). One of those that i spun was ‘Eftir Pólskiptin’ by STRAX. It’s an OK album i guess. Some cafe jazz inflected synth pop with a singer who’s really working her inner Ertha Kitt. Definitely a sound of its time (Mid 1980s). Now I’ve heard of Strax, but didn’t know that much about them. So a cursory look and I see that they’re a side project of Stuðmenn’s Jakob Frímann and Ragga Gisla!
Ahh Jakob Frímann… gotta love that guy I guess. Funky keyboard fingers and strident ambition, but never quite landing that killer pop blow outside of Iceland. Some good high points (Such as this one lol), but his Jack Magnet material has aged really badly, and to be honest he does come across as a bit laughable these days (Did you see last week’s of Episode of Hljómskalinn and that song/video he did with Steed Lord? Christ Alive!! They actually flew him all the way to LA for that??).
Ragga Gisla though, now there’s a chanteuse extraordinaire if ever there was one. Funny though, she seems to have been someone who’s efforts have passed me by a bit. Of course I’m well aware of her exploits in Stuðmenn and Grýlurnar, but the rest seems to be a bit of a blank. Definitely a powerful voice though. Wim Van Hooste says it best when he says her vocal skills “are in one league with Kate Bush and Nina Hagen.”
So with nothing else better to do, I decide to check her stuff out a bit more. And i come across this band… RAGGA AND THE JACK MAGNET ORCHESTRA! It seems that back in the 1990’s, when she and Jakob Frimann were married, and he was a cultural attache at the Icelandic embassy in London, they decided to form group making trip hop and downtempo electronica. Um… wow! OK I’ve got to hear this!
So I get hold of a copy (Thanks internet!), and give the album a spin. It’s not awful, but it’s not that great. Definitely an album that certain coffee table album loving people of the ’90s would love, those trip hop leanings,with lots of sweeping strings, but at times meandering into b-grade exotica (The man from the Masai African chanting, middle eastern flutes, Jewish/Romany folk violins, etc). You have to remember that the ’90s trip hop of yesteryear is this generation’s easy listening music that’s left unwanted and cluttering today’s charity shop record bins. And with Ragga pushing the vocal envelope in a Tina Turner/Shirley Bassey style, tracks such as “Passion For Life” is the closest Iceland will get to creating a David Holmes inspired James Bond soundtrack
But as i said, it’s not that awful. Some of the sounds in the production are actually pretty left-field and at times really rough and grinding. It should be noted that the 3rd of the band member was Mark Davies, a maverick dance/techno producer who made music with the likes of Anna Homler, and was a member of Gonk, creators of the truly maverick (ie. completely fucked up) albums of the ’90s, ‘Will/Will Not Attend.‘ Ragga meanwhile is certainly rocking the gothic geisha look on the video “Man on the moon,” better than Madonna would end up doing on the likes of “Frozen.” Plus, I actually like the blocky, industrial machinery rhythm breaks on this one.
Naturally I post all this on Facebook and we all have a good gawp, until someone posts “did yu know Ragga sang on a track on Tricky’s debut album!”
“It’s the crappest song on said album but still – Tricky!”
But it turns out to be true! Ragga Gisla did the vocals for “You Don’t,” on “Maxinquaye.” Bloody hell!
And that’s not all. Turns out she also did the vocals for this track by 808 State as well!
Well colour me… slightly dumbfounded. Now look, just what the hell was going on with Icelanders in London in the ’90s? Since when did they start becoming all cool and stuff?? Was Björk acting as a one woman promoter for Icelandic artists? If anyone knows Ragga, ask her for me will you?