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The Quietus: Album Reviews: Shiny darkly, ‘little Earth’

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I recently reviewed Little Earth, the debut album from SHINY DARKLY for The Quietus. You can read it here.

Interesting album. heavily signposts its influences. Is very much cool sexy goth for 21 Century – not in that they are Joy Division (As one music writer noted in their press release), but more of a cool Clash Magazine photo shoot way. Darkness as pure surface sheen, gothic transgression as affected pose.

And yet i did find myself enjoying the album in a few places. Might whip it out at a few goth parties! If anything it made me fish out my old cop of Primary Colours by the Horrors. Forgot how good that album was…

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2015 in <

 

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Album Reviews: The Quietus: Jon Brooks, ‘Walberswick’

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Second quick fire post of the day – a review of Jon Brooks’ stunning ambient effort Walberswick for The Quietus is now available to read.

i find myself delving more and more into the nature of music and topography/memory. I haven’t been to the coast of Suffolk (my brother’s Partner/Babymama Lis actually mentioned after this was posted that she and my niece went to Walberswick a couple of months ago to go crabbing), but the fact that the music came across as very evocative of the place from what I had seen in my research on the area (Suffolk wildlife trust brochures, documentaries on WG Sebald and Sizewell B nuclear power station down the road, plus re-reading Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life book). As i mention in the review, it’s a soundtrack to a very peculiar hinterland in the British landscape.

This is something that may need a little piece written about in the next few weeks. Music that evokes a sense of time and place, even if it isn’t necessarily your time or your place. This is going into esoteric/ritual music territory again….

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in music

 

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Album Reviews: Reykjavik Grapevine: Pink Street Boys, ‘Hits #1′

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It’s going to be a bit of a busy day, so a couple of quick fire posts from me.

My review of Hits #1 from those Icelandic filthbag rockers PINK STREET BOYS, is now uploaded and available to read on the Grapevine website.

Effectively if Singapore Sling are the Velvet Underground/Skag, then they are Iggy and The Stooges/Speed. With more shouting. and Chlamydia. And Monotown are the Eagles/Herpes.

Their barrel-chested lead singer Axel Björnsson is a hoot! I actually had to throw him out of Bakkus on my first shift as a doorman there. Imagine dropping a bag of broken spanners into a snowdrift. Guy came back and apologised for his behaviour the following week. Very few people actually do that. Nice bloke.

Also a shoutout to Sindri Eldon whose description of Bubbi Morthens I wholeheartedly stole for this review, because i could not have described him better myself.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Misþyrming and Ivar Páll Jónsson

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Even though it’s been a while, there are a couple of review salvos that were fired off to Castle Greyskull aka Grapevine towers. First up is Söngvar elds og óreiðu by Misþyrming, some truly gnarly black metal that turned turned this reviewer into the living embodiment of the Nihilist Arbys twitter account (“oh no,” said the intrepid reviewer on his first listen. “what if life really was just an accident and that we all die alone in the black eternity of nothing?”) but some good production and pitiless nihilism in intent. I really did like it… a lot.

the same couldn’t be said for Revolution…..blah. blah by Ivar Páll Jónsson. Really dull, piss poor indie-rawk, that peddles an almost moronically simplistic use of peace, love and freedom for a musical plot. notice how they highlight the “Love” in Revolution ala russel Brand. Says it all really. and no i didn’t like this one.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2015 in music

 

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Album Reviews: Reykjavik Grapevine: Subminimal – “Sinian”

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I did a review of the latest album from Icelandic DnB producer SUBMINIMAL over at the Rvk GV.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Adda and Atónal Blús

A few albums reviews were posted in The Grapevine online this week after being published in the paper. though i’d put them up on here for your reading pleasure….

ADDA: My Brain EP (2014)

‘My Brain,’ the crowdsourced debut EP from singer/songwriter Adda (AKA Arnþrúður Ingólfsdóttir), is a wonderfully austere, haunting body of folk songs. Playing fingerpicked acoustic guitar, Adda sings a lot about her turbulent mind (referring to her brain as a third person entity), as if she were in a passionate relationship with a partner. With all the highs and lows it entails, the intensity and emotional gravity of such feelings reverberate in Adda’s voice (with accompaniment from her sister Sunna). The rising, sustained two-note harmonies on “Taking Off,” for example, set your arm hairs on edge.

Adda has in the past referred to Joni Mitchell as a big influence and Jewel songs such as “Pieces Of You” and “Little Sister” could sit perfectly well alongside this EP. But while those artists have a shiny Americana gloss to them, ‘My Brain’ has a much stronger, rustic folk dynamic, as if it’s been opened up to the changeable elements of Northern European climes. “Waking Up,” with the reedy flute accompaniment of Georgia Browne, is a dew-laden, pastoral sunrise of a song while “I Will Not Forget,” a survivor’s letter of thanks to family and friends, is definitely the best track on the EP. The undulating meter of the guitar accompanied by waves of long drawn cello drones that drift in and out of focus have a mesmeric spectral quality, all windswept cliffs and remote peninsulas.

If there’s one duff moment in ‘My Brain,’ then it’s “Queer Sweetheart” with its finger-clicking jazz-blues melody, which alas does not do anything for me. But even here, decidedly acidic witty lines such as “You might even catch me with a queer porn flick/But don’t tell my country about it though/Cos there I’m a radical feminist oh-oh/And they don’t watch any kind of porn,” made me spit my morning tea out, going “Damn! You went there!”

‘My Brain’ is an accomplished debut EP that’s highly intimate, even confessional, but never comes across as self-obsessed. There is a quiet determination that resides at the centre of the music. The production also shows that when it comes to creating an impact with her song writing, she definitely gets what folk is all about.

Atónal Blús: Höfuðsynd

It should be noted that when you first play ‘Höfuðsynd,’ the debut album from new band Atónal Blús, you quickly realise that despite the cool name, that they’re not really Arnold Schoenberg does John Lee Hooker. But that’s not to dispute that there’s some avant-garde tinkering at play here. The opening track, “Atónal Blús,” is a murky, buzzing, discoloured breakdown of a song that comes closest to the atonal aesthetic implied of the band’s name.

From there it settles down into a spot-welded blend of heaving psych-inflected rock and interesting rhythmic patterns that could be seen as a little bit (whisper it) “proggy.” The rhythm workings shouldn’t come as a surprise. The band’s main instigator, Gestur Guðnason, was a member of Icelandic Balkan beats band Stórsveit Nix Noltes, and a track like “Balkan Boogie” is pretty much a fuzzed up variation on the SNN template, although it’s definitely more subtly employed on tracks such as “Oxygen Kills.” The rock components themselves are manfully done although fairly standard in their structure and occasionally border on cliché (freight train sounds made with the harmonica and acoustic jams with bongos).

All in all, ‘Höfuðsynd’ is a rather enjoyable listen. The drums/bass partnership have been brought right to the front of the mix, giving what could have been an average rock song like “Sexy Slave” some overloading, thumping menace (Jesus, those floor toms!). There are also several moments, such as when the vocals, harmonica and lead guitar combine on “Lítið ljón,” where there’s a looseness that borders on the unstable, giving it a definite edge in comparison to the stiff, crushing orthodoxy of much of Iceland’s lauded “real rock” music. Definitely worth a spin for rock heads looking for a little more danger in their music.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2014 in Iceland, music

 

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Passing Judgement: Mammút, ‘Komdu Til Mín, Svarta Systir”

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Five years can be a long time between albums in music. If you’re lucky, then you can be a band like Portishead or even HAM, where the absence only serves to increase the expectations of your fans. Of you could go the way of the likes of The Stone Roses and Guns N’ Roses, whose long absence and delays in making and releasing their music only seemed to rob them of any energy and impetus, the end result being music that was boring and stodgy, making you wonder why they bothered in the first place.

With this in mind, it’s still hard to get my head round the fact that this is the same amount of time that has passed since the release of ‘Karkari,’ the second album from Icelandic indie rockers, MAMMÚT. What have they been doing with time? Well instead of living in plush country mansions, nurturing heroin addictions and battling with world music and gout, they’re still in plain public view. playing gigs and festivals, getting art degrees, having fun and generally becoming elder statespeople (While still being young and fresh-faced) of the Icelandic indie music scene.

But after the procrastination, the long wait is over and Mammút have now finally released their third album, ‘Komdu Til Mín, Svarta Systir,’ (or ‘Come To Me My Black Sister,’ in English). The album itself seems to have been a fairly long and slightly painful germination process, with work starting on it back in 2010, but with the band, according to interviews, starting and restarting it from scratch several times over. The band have also been quoted as saying that at one point they thought the album would never be finished. But somehow they’ve managed to break through this impasse and in doing so have given us an album that is rather different to what’s come before. Whereas ‘Mammut’ and ‘Karkari’ were rough, murky, yet energetic albums of indie powerpop, with KTMSS we see these wee cherubs breaking from their enclosed spaces and is running around the hills bright-eyed and crystal clear. 

You can tell easily tell that a lot of time and effort has been spent on this album, with the production work coming from longtime collaborator Flex Arnarson, and Magnús Árni Öder (Who did some rather sterling work with Lay Low on ‘Brostin Strengur’). It feels like in trying to get an album that they were satisfied with, Mammút have taken their entire sound and recording process, stripped it down to their constituent parts and given them a through working over before slotting everything back together. Now their music sounds like a well oiled machine, with every instrument and sound overdub linking effortlessly with everything else

From the first track “Ströndin,” with its intro of woodblock style percussion and icy trumpet synths, the real delight in listening to KTMSS is how everything just seems to have stepped up a gear. For example, the drums of Andri Bjartur are no longer a case of your standard “My first indie drumkit.” Instead they rumble and tumble all over the place with some real potency, with the smashing intro and rolling rhythms he does on “Bloðberg,” a clear example. Meanwhile, the guitars of Alexandra and Arnar throughout the album are clean and pure, only garnished with some reverb, sustain and delay. Songs such as “Til Mín,” and “Ró” display that sort of rural expanse that you often hear in the early music of Explosions In The Sky and Band Of Horses.

But it’s the vocals of Kata that define the real emotional core of KTMSS. Yes, like most other people who first came to Iceland, when I heard her sing “Svefnsýkt” all those many years ago, I made the mistake of thinking that this was some obscure Björk song from the 1990s. But despite the odd vocal infection that seems inherent in women who sing in Icelandic, she has a timbre and register that’s hers alone. On this album she really pushes her range and expression, with one minute it”s nothing but soft, delicate, almost “Krútt” high registering notes, then it descends into full throated wails and screams. A song such as “,” where it is just her and a single guitar, she is the one that give the song that sense of sadness and portent. 

With its widescreen sound, grandeur of execution, and feelings of using your ears for eyes, Mammút seem to have moved into that territory of making “Big” music, of not being a rock act that uses standard rock tropes such as riffs or power chords. Instead they use the studio as an extra instrument to fill up the music with vocal overdubs, atmospheric vapours and keyboard glints, that takes their music beyond the confines of 101 and into the big bad world outside. This kind of approach is not new of course. You can trace a lineage of bands making “Big” music from the ’80s, with the likes of U2, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Simple Minds, through to ’90s indie acts such as James, all the way to modern artists such as Sigur Rós and even Coldplay (ahem). Bands that started off intense, twitchy and claustrophobic, but who grew into making music that traded with elemental imagery that invoked feelings of natural wonder. You know, glaciers, canyons, prairies, and other landscape based gubbins.

But before you start thinking that they’re on the road to making shitty, bombastic stadium rock, it worth noting that Mammút have also managed to make a very economical record that uses the decidedly post-punk idea of taking out anything that would be deemed superfluous or needlessly extravagant. Everything that is in that album is there for a purpose. There are no such things as solos, repeating of choruses in different keys, or long drawn out track closings. In fact many of the songs end abruptly, such as in the case of “Þau Svæfa,” where the song actually breaks down as it was skipping on your CD player. Add to this the fact that the album has only 9 tracks that total 35 minutes, then you have an album that is tight, and very much focused in what it wants to get across to the listener.

While ‘Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir,” is an album that couldn’t be described as “mental,” (As one friend of mine said it was), it’s most definitely an album that shows Mammút to at least be stretching themselves both in their sounds and themes.  As an exercise in production, atmosphere and texture, I’ve gotta say that it certainly smacks a lot of its contemporaries out of the park.

‘Komdu til Mig Svarta Systir,’ is available via Record Records, or from Tonlist.is 

EPILOGUE: Naturally, of course, with anything to do with Icelandic art and culture, there always has to be some kind of drama, and with Mammút there is no exception. In this case the album title ‘Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir’  (Taken from a poem by acclaimed Icelandic poet Davíð Stefánsson, though like most non-Icelanders I’ve never heard of him), has seen Kata recently displaying a literal, artistic interpretation of the phrase in her stage presence, with her donning black facepaint, and looking like she’s spent a day in the mines, or playing a chimney sweep extra in ‘Mary Poppins’ (You can see this when they appeared on Studio A last week) This has led to a fair bit of hand-wringing and slightly breathless commentary on some Icelandic FB music groups about the reasoning and nature in using the “Blackface.” (Even I got involved for a cpl of posts!) is it offensive? Is it derogatory? Is it art? Is it political correctness gone maZZzzzzz…..

Here’s the thing. Unlike the previous artistic generations, musicians and artists like Mammút are not idiots and they will at least have a passing awareness of the outside world and what goes on with regards to race, culture, and the history of appropriation. Context, as with everything, is the key here. Unlike the usual cases in the past of blackface (Where white people are impersonating actual black people and their perceived mannerisms), Kata isn’t really impersonating an actual black person, but simply taking on the elemental aspect of the nature of  the use of the word “Black” in the album title and the poem. It doesn’t help that many foreign fans of the band will be unaware of the the origins of the title and where it comes from, so hence they go “What’s with the blackface?” But I don’t think we need to get all riled with indignation about this. The intent is not what a lot of people will think it is.

Of course you can still argue though on whether or doing such an entry-level gesture of artistic expression  (“The album title talks of a black sister, so therefore I will put on black make up and will be her!”) is one that has any merit or not. Personally, I wished that she had gone the way of whatshername Die Antwoord and done a whole body paint get up. that way she would have looked like an evil smurf!

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in Iceland, music

 

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