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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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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Grúska Babúska, “S/T”

So I did a review of the self titled EP from Icelandic female 4-piece Grúska Babúska a few months ago, and it was finally printed in the current issue of the Grapevine. you can go here to check it out. It also seems again that there’s been an attack of the Ghost Sub-editors –  Where are all the commas in the first paragraph? Also the beginning of the final paragraph should have read that the album could work as a children’s album, not couldn’t. But these alas are no concerns of mine. What’s done is done, etc.

Anyway, it’s fair to say that I didn’t like the EP that much. Many of the songs are like the following. It´s just too coy, sickly and overpowering in it’s affected innocence to actually enjoy it. …

It wasn’t all bad though. Interestingly, there was one good song on the album, called “Burg” (Which alas in the review is called “Bur” – Dammit!), that actually has a different feel to the rest of the album. 

The track hints at some of the more playful aspects of old ’70s soundtrack/library scores.

The thing though is that these are intro songs to rather Grisly ’70s Italian giallo/horror movies (‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage,’ and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ respectively). The power of the tracks comes from the juxtaposition of music that is soft, sweet, almost childlike, with gory, vicious nastiness. It gives the music that sense of power, that it’s actually leading you into a false sense of security before the film pulls the rug from under your feet.

Then there’s other films from that time that portray the world of a growing child as a surrealist fairytale (I understand that film is rather popular with many members of the arts scene here in Iceland)

Even though it’s put forward as a fairytale, there’s a lot more going on with “Valerie / Her Week Of Wonders” that at first glance. Despite the surreal and dreamlike imagery, there’s a heavy sexual/Oedipal undercurrent to the plot. It’s an allegory that chronicles the world through the eyes of a child who is undergoing the first stages of puberty, as she grows from a girl into a woman, with all the fear and uncertainties that come with it. It echoes many of the old fairy tales/folk songs that actually had a very adult/blasphemous take on the world around them, before Victorian & Edwardian morals sought to excise the more suspect/dirtier elements from them.

And then you have the modern quirky takes on fairy tale folk and the soundtrack/library music from that era, examples of which are coming out from offshoot labels of Finder Keepers records (Disposable Music, and Pre-Cert Home Entertainment).

Listening to that, the music seems to be looking to synthesize and channel that hauntological sense of the uncanny, almost supernatural forces that runs through much of our lives unnoticed, unless we care to look deeper. Lots of musique concrete sounds (Bangs, shoes shuffling and clomping on the ground, creaks, clinks of chains, scratches) and slightly discordant melody lines that add a kind of untamed, sinister ambiance to what is music for kids stories.

And this is the fundamental flaw with Grúska Babúska. Even though they try to attain a sense of a fairy tale sound that harks at something weird and unusual, there is no depth or details to their world. Apart from “Burg,” It fails to invoke any sense of the unusual, that there is more going on to their music and imagery that provides a for sense of the uncanny or fantastical. It´s all “Aren’t we so nice and lovely and sweet?”

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Iceland, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Mopping up those words…

Am off to see a friend play in a Gig soon, so i’ll be quick and to the point.

So there’s been a few album reviews loaded onto da interwubs. First off is the latest EP from SIN FANG. it was actually something i liked a lot. T’was very bright and breezy for what has been a bit of a balmy summer.

Next up is the second album from MUGSEFJUN. Twiddly “progressive” pop nonsense. Apparently has good lyrics and obviously thinks its being a very arch and clever music. But it does have it’s moments here and there.

Last up is the début album from ARNAR ÁSTRÁÐSSON. He writes songs to try to win Iceland’s song for Eurovision. That’s all you need to know really.

Now get reading…

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: More Metal Madness: Rancid Opinions and Blood Feud

So in the aftermath of Eistnaflug, I did a short Op-Ed piece on the current state of the Icelandic Metal scene (I really need to do something about getting a new Byline photo. I look like a predatory Gaye Biker on Acid). I also knocked off a review of the debut album from BLOOD FEUD. Overall it was a good, solid debut with the keyword being thrash, which to be honest we need more of in Iceland, so we can get some real  head-banging on the go. Just needs to have a rethink about those vocals though.

As an apropos (don’t worry, i made sure i checked up that word before I used it) to the Op-Ed article, it seems that things are definitely stirring under the scene as a whole. Alas the minute i finished writing the piece, i found out that one of the real up and comers of the scene, HYLUR, only had to be a bunch of selfish bastards and split up.

But things are still looking good overall. Death metal band ANGIST announced today that they’ve recently signed a deal with US indie metal label Abyss Records. Essentially many musos have realised that if anything is going to happen in their careers, then they’re the only ones who are going to do it. It doesn’t mean the end of the earth to schmooze people who may help you further you ambitions from journalists to people who hold the keys to festival booking and cultural grants. Granted, you may need to shower yourself afterwards, but all for the greater good i suppose. And we’re beginning to see some acts reap the rewards of their labours.

There is still a real sense of frustration amongst many in the scene with regard how the wider cultural industries in Iceland view metal and its potential. While most said they were OK with their current exposure and received decent press, both here and abroad, they felt that other types of music of music got more exposure and money because they’re more easy to market (that whole evil culture/tourism axis is popping up again) abroad. One musician really went to town in his reply with a most righteous rant, railing everything in the system, as well as more famous metal bands for acting like divas. I had to lie down after reading it with a cold compress.

With the band member who talked about trying to get funding for their tour last year, they noted that at the same time a “Cutesy band got 1 million ISK to go to China…. I haven’t heard anything about that since. I’m not slagging the band that got the money. I’m sure they needed it and all that, but I’m just saying compared to our project it seemed just really unfair. I know Sólstafir sometimes get funded, but they have a label behind them and a massive exposure but that’s really my point. What about the other bands that are maybe getting similar opportunities but need a little kick-start to launch their projects? I’m sure if 3 big “radio friendly” bands had applied to these funds with the same project would have gotten a blank check. We didn’t even ask for half of what that krútt band got for our tour”. Indeed

True a lot of death/black/ other forms of metal could be called “niche”, but if you followed that logic, then only music guaranteed to appeal to the broadest demographic (i,e, really BORING music) will be destined to get the most backing/funding/coverage.

If you fancy listening to the new album from blood Feud, then you can stream it HERE.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Of Monsters And Men, “Head Is an Animal”

Yeah, so i did a review of the juggernaut that is “My Head Is An Animal” by Of Monsters And Men for the latest issue of the Grapevine. Go over and read it here.

Interesting side note. Spoke a while back with an Icelandic musician who used to do music with Universal, the label who signed Of Monsters And Men. He told me that he met the label rep from Universal at last years’ Airwaves and he was rather happy with himself, while also being slightly under the influence a few beers.

Telling my friend that he had some great news, he proceeded to tell him that they had just signed the Of Monsters And Men. Friend replied “Why? They’re so boring! They’re just like all the other other boring bland bands out there!”

Record label rep then goes “Oh no. They’re going to be huge! Just as big as Arcade fire! If not bigger! And we’re gonna make them huge!”

Oh well. You can always ignore them if you want. Just avoid the radio. And the TV. And the newspapers. And mainstream music websites. And mobile phone adverts. Basically any standard cultural media. No biggie….

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Helgi Jónsson, “Big Spring”

Towards the end of the year, I reviewed the current album from Helgi Hrafn Jónsson for the Grapevine, which had been gathering dust for a little while now, until they placed it online yesterday, so now you can read it all for yourself.

Interestingly, when it was posted i was actually reading an article linked by my friend Alex titled WHAT MAKES MUSIC BORING?, namely that if there is a piece of music that you find boring, then it is more likely down to you, and how when music is described as boring, it’s often used as a proxy way to describe the listeners and fans of the artist.

I tohught of this because i found “Big spring”, a pile of turgid, half-baked crap. And BORING at that as well. I’M sure that many people will find it great, and good luck to them with that, but as i was asked to give my opinion on this, then that’s what i gave.

Let me explain. The biggest issue i had with the album, even more than the music, was with the lyrics.  Now lyrics can be a really tricky thing at the best of times. Sometimes you can some truly lyrical moments in music (most of The Smiths, the Pet Shop Boys, Eminem, Tori Amos, etc,etc,etc),  or you can have abstract, but still excellent moments (Nirvana, John Lydon’s early stuff with PiL’s, The Fall, etc, etc). But a lot of the lyrics here are such pretentious nonsense i don’t know where to start at time.

But if i had to start, then let’s take the opening song “Salt”. It passes itself off as a song about the power and complexities of the love that two people show for one another. The first verse reads;

She slipped a note under my door

One evening

I was already fast asleep

Of what it read i’m pretty sure the meaning

Described her fragile love for me

Ok so far so… hmm. He’s fast asleep when the person who loves him slips a note under his door, professing her “Fragile” love for him. This isn’t awful, but to be honest, do these two love each other? If they do, then why is she slipping notes under his door? Perhaps some crippling shyness of something similar is at issue here. But it’s the 1st verse, so lets run with this and look at the second verse.

It read:

“The melting point of salt is 800 degrees

But drop it in a glass of water

and you lose it instantly

It’s simple chemistry

And so it is with you and me…”

Right, here we have a classic example of someone who is trying to show how clever they are by using a “Complex” metaphor from looking up a fun science fact and shoehorned it into the song. The problem with this though is when you don’t really know your subject matter well enough for it actually work. Despite what he says, having a melting point of 800 celsius doesn’t show fragility, in fact that’s fairly extreme for a compound. Granted only science geeks will pick up on this (they will tell you salt has weak iconic bonds, but that means that it’s a strong electrolyte!), but it’s just blatant songwriting posturing as far as I’m concerned.

Let’s look at the next verse….

I didn’t know how to reply

I waited until i knew what to say

The days and weeks and months went by until i made it

To send a note the other way.

Think about it. You’re a woman who loves a guy, but in a “fragile” way. Said guy is aware of this fragile love. So what does he do? he waits MONTHS before he pens an actual reply to your note! Think about that. you’re laying yourself on the line emotionally speaking in making the first move, despite exhibiting some kind of confidence/shyness issue with the way you’ve professed your love for him. But what happens when you don’t get a reply back? That just means social suicide!  How can you look this person in the eye when you next see him? He knows how you feel and he doesn’t reply? NOOOOO! The amount of time he’s taken to think up his answer, she’s probably topped herself, her self-worth being shattered because he couldn’t be arsed to give her a reply, ANY reply. The dick!

Unless she’s a perfectly normal, well-adjusted person, whereupon having not gotten a reply, she’ll simply go “What’s his problem? Fuck him!”, and the song pretty much ends there.

But wait! There’s more! We have his reply that took him months to pen and get back to her.

It said:

“The distance to the stars you’ll never understand

But you know exactly where they are 

For this astronomy

Was always meant to be 

And so it is with you and me….” 

What…. that’s it???? That’s what took you months to think up and reply back to her with??? This guy is certainly no Wordsworth. First of all, “The distance to the stars you’ll never understand.” How fucking condescending is that? You could have said something like “They are so hard to understand,” because hey, Astrophysics can be a difficult thing for people to grasp. But no, he is saying directly that she can’t understand it.

What he’s really saying is that she doesn’t have the brains to understand what a light year is but HE does! Now, If i was writing a love note like this to Mrs Sex Farm when i was wooing her, i can safely guarantee that i would end up with a swift kick to the balls for being such a tactless jerk, and she wouldn´t be happily married to me, making my sandwiches.

Basically what he have here is a tale of two emotionally stunted individuals, who love each other but express it in the most convoluted and haughty way possible, and while they apparently love each other, when one finally makes the effort to announce said love, the other one then waits forever to announce his love for her! Truly a love song for our times.

I give it 6 months….

Other examples? How about the opening verse to “Lonely Birds”

Little birds are the last to fly

Just because they’re afraid to die

This is true, I have seen it in their eyes

In the pet shop

Nuff said really.

As for the music, well i certainly did think it was boring, aimless stuff. Here are 3 tracks for you listen and take stock before you consider buying.

Note – I actually think I remember seeing this guy off venue at last year’s Airwaves festival. It was on a Saturday Off-Venue at Kaffibarinn where i was with my Brother and another friend. By this time of the festival, the first signs of fatigue were beginning to show a little and we were a little “emotional”, but when we arrived at the K-Bar, there were some nice beats playing and we chatted and nodded our heads sagely to the music. But the next thing we knew, the beats suddenly stopped and several guys with instruments crammed into half the bar (i had the end one guitar shoved right up my nose while they played), and proceeded to play some really bland, wimpy guitar rock. We all simply looked at each other, thought “fuck this,” and left. The music was Helgi and his band.

So yes, you can say that I’m not a fan… Oh well….

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Iceland, literature

 

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Passing Judgement: Nolo’s “Nology” and the Studio Vs Home recording wars…

To be honest, a lot of guff gets written about “Lo-Fi” music and what it all means, doesn’t it? The sort of bollocks that tries to ascertain the philosophical aspects of recording vocals into equipment made from an old tin can and a bit of string. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the flow of guff is not going to change with this blog post.

In its simplest form, Lo-Fi recordings exist as a means of necessity due to financial constraints, (being unable to afford real studio time) and also in part to perceived musical incompetency (no record label would touch you, hence no financial backing). Lo-Fi music has been around for ages, from the first recordings of music, on cylinders and old 78′s, to the scratchy ethnographic recordings of Alan Lomax, to the golden era of “Lo-Fi” in the ’80s when simple 4-track portastudios becoming readily available.

At that time, the c86 movement saw an explosion in home recorded music, the punk DIY ethic being executed, writ large. Of course the musical results were more often than not, total garbage, but that wasn’t the point. The music was a statement against the increasingly big, dry, bombastic recordings from major labels and their acts. This was also true of the early recordings from the Norwegian black metal scene, with bands using the cheapest, nastiest equipment they could find. It all seemed “authentic” against the fakery of the studios.

But today, lowering costs and advancement of recording equipment, as well as the software to deal with it all, mean the possibilities of what you can do in your bedroom has become waaay more pronounced. In reality, you would only be doing something “Lo-Fi” in a deliberate stance towards “Authenticity” which is almost ironic as most mainstream music today, with its constant use of compression, Pro Logic tools and almost being mixed to play on phones and laptops, has become more harsh, brittle and plastic than many classic lo-fi songs of yesteryear. It’s almost a weird form of alternative ideology against the prevails of the mainstream status quo to make your home recordings sound as full, lush and expensive sounding as possible.

Today some of the best music you hear has been recorded at home or in a home studio. Take a look at these three examples…

One of the blackest, ooziest releases this year, Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak) recorded most of this album at home. Admittedly it took him a lot of time and effort but the crushing, scraping sounds of doom he makes is darker that most black metal albums you hear.

“But i bet he has a lot of complex equipment,” you may counter. “That’s not really lo-fi!” Okay, well how about this?

Julianna Barwick is just one woman who, with a few pieces of equipment, and a laptop, makes choir sounds that feel like an angel is giving birth in your cerebral cortex. all the while her cat is messing with her cables!

Oh is that still too complex for you? Well how about this?

Ian Hodgson (aka Moon Wiring Club), makes sample heavy music that references his encyclopedic knowledge of old UK TV and horror films from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. And he composes nearly all of his music on a Playstation 2 using the “MTV music generator 2″ software package. Yes, that’s right, he make his music using A FUCKING PLAYSTATION 2!

So effectively, with the level of quality coming from modern home recordings, in reality the only reason you would need to go into a studio would be if there was something too complex to record properly at home, of if there was a greater ambition and imagination at play that required more snazzy, expensive stuff to play with.

(takes a breather…)

Wow, that was a mighty long ramble-as-intro to a record “review” and we haven’t even mentioned the record yet! One of the reasons for that above rambling is that over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to “Nology”, the debut album from local popsters NOLO. And while listening to it, I started thinking about the rationality and comparisons between of home Vs Studio recordings and what it means today be “Lo-Fi”

I enjoyed Nolo’s debut EP from last year, “No Lo-Fi”. In an (unpublished) review, i make the mistake of invoking the artist A***l P**k in describing their sound, which really wasn’t applicable as they weren’t truly invoking a memoryscape of past musical endeavours that would have imprinted their childhood. In reality Nolo make simple Pop Tunes that hints towards the beatles and early ’80s new wave.

intriguingly, the sound on “No Lo-Fi” had a deliciously warped, melted nature to it. Recorded at home on a single mic and basic equipment, natural reverb dripped from tracks such as “Skelin Mín” and “Fondu” seemed to have a scratched, overloaded pulse to proceedings. Then you saw them play live, whereupon you realised they were a classic example of a bedroom band, suddenly forced to translate their music to a live platform and stumbling somewhat. Tinny drum machines, cheesy organ sounds and the inability to sing properly, somewhat dampened expectations a bit, although they have gotten a bit better since their beginnings.

Now we have “Nology”, a 14 track opus from the boys that’s gaining rave reviews and should see them take it to the next level. But somehow something seems to have gotten lost in the transition. Many local reviews have made much of the fact that they recorded this album in a studio with the assistance of Svavar “Prinspóló” Eysteinsson and Loji “Sudden Weather Change” Höskuldsson. But after listening to the end result, you wonder why they actually bothered. Because you could have recorded music with this level of production easily at home. They’ve kept the plastic, flimsy feel to the songs, but the album seems to have lost some of the otherworldly vibe of their earlier material, draining it of its woozyness. When you tell people that “Nology” was recorded in a studio, they actually go “Really? I don’t believe it!” I would have assumed that with going into a studio, they would have gone for a bigger, ambitious, increasingly out-there experience, upping the levels of lushness and smear a layer dripping mental gauze to proceedings, otherwise, why bother going into a studio in the first place? 

Not that the songs themselves are bad as such. In some places they’re pretty good actually, Tacks such as “Polka”, “Taxi” and “Beautiful Day” contain extremely catchy melodies, and show signs of increasing confidence in their songcraft. But you do need to ignore certain deficiencies in order to enjoy the listening, the main one being the lyrics. Are they bad? Well, yes, but they’re the anti-Vintage Caravan aren’t they? While the VC try to act like hard 30-something rockers talking about “Psychedelic mushroom men” and “crazy devil women” (I think they’re actually still virgins), Nolo seem to have taken the “write about your experiences and what you know” school of thought. This means singing a lot about travelling on public transport and having friends come over to visit. In terms of life experiences and cultural input, never has being an Icelandic teenager sounded so dull.

Also i would have trimmed a few of the less enthusing tracks, such as “Souls Of Shanghai” and “Iceage”.The reworking of “Beautiful Way”  also doesn’t really add that much to the previous version on “no Lo-Fi”.

“Nology” is a quirky little album that has its plus points, but does seem to have lost its way a little in the recording process. Oh, they’ll get the plaudits and become fully paid up members of the whole musical “Iceland  = quirky” squad. I just hope that when they next record a batch of tunes, they really think hard about what they want and get some good guidance on making their music a more astral experience.

You can hear and stream the album yourself over at Gogoyoko.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Review: Lay Low, “Brostinn Strengur”

So my review of Lay Low’s “Brostin Strengur” is now online for your perusal

You know, in the past I’ve not been kind about Lay Low. On occasion I’ve said she had “an awful stage presence”, and her songs had a “crushing monotony”, And IMHO she deserved most of it at the time. While her 1st album did have a OK-ish stripped down blues sound, her 2nd second album “Farewell Good Night’s Sleep” I felt was just somebody going “oh I’ve just discovered some Huckle Shucks, Grand Ol’ Opry country from the ’60s. I’ll do some country music now”. Lots of bland melodies and slide guitars up the wazoo.

But most people’s music and attitudes don’t remain static and this is definitely the case with “Brostin Strengur”. I liked it. A lot. The songs were just much better composed and written, You can hear the maturity and confidence through the record. Take “Gleymd Mér Ei!” for example. It starts off with a heavy country acoustic and vocal style to it. But when the drums kick in, the rhythm, very subtlely changes the whole style of the sound by adding a soul element to it. the sign of someone who knows how to wield the different parts of a song to her will.

The album sounds really good as well. It twins the subtleness of the music with some real dynamism, the sort that I’ve been pleading bands to try to strive for in their recordings in 2011. She’s applied some real atmospherics, but hasn’t drowned the music in incessant bombast in the belief that it’ll make the album sound “big”. This means that when the power kicks in, such as the initial drum roll on “Helganga”, it makes you sit up and take notice. You also find yourself hearing certain things, such as the whistling wind sounds on “Lifið” or when the freak out part on “Brostinn Strengur” finishes, leaving just the drums, bass and a smattering of reverb/echo to make a real sense fullness.

A couple of things though – “Vonin” sounds so much like a Sin Fang song, i almost thought it was a cover or something at first. Also, what’s up with the picture on the album cover? what was she reading? What’s going through her head? Was she thinking about how what she read has impacted her, or if she thinking that now would be a good time for nachos? WE NEED TO KNOW!!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Synthadelica & Hellvar

A couple of album Reviews are up and running…

First up, the EP “Let the party start” by SYNTHADELIA. It’s really just a quick 3 track burst of not too bad synth pop. Nothing that spectacular, but good enough for what it is. Check it out HERE.

Next up is the review for “Stop That Noise” by HELLVAR. their second album, it’s you classic electro rock that you hear in the charts every now and then. Again not bad, although as noted in the review, I kept hearing other people’s music in their album.

For example, “I wish i was cool” has that stomp riff in E that sounds and feels every so slightly used before.

(ok, so the Troggs in the key of A. so sue me….)

Meanwhile “Falsetto” feels like a stripped down version of the following….

And then there’s “Anna Amma” which REALLY sounds a lot like this….

But apart from all that, it’s a big improvement on their first album. Go and listen HERE

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Úlfur Kolka, “Human Error”

Where i try my hardest to get worked up about some Icelandic Hip Hop. And partially fail due to it not being interesting enough…

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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