“The Fight Is On” Compilation (1985 / 1988)

I have a fascination with extreme music.  It’s not so much that I like listening to most of it so much as I’m simply infatuated by how far outside the mainstream it is.  My self-perception is that I’m more interested in the fact that it exists, the people who perform it, and the people who actively follow it than I am in the music itself.  I’ve always been fascinated with subcultures, especially those on the extreme fringes, so I suppose this is a natural extension.  If I’m self-analyzing, and clearly I am, this infatuation is possibly a kind of respect (or envy….?) for those who live the life they choose to live even when it is well outside of what society deems normal or, at times, even acceptable.  Do I have some hidden longing to exist as an outsider?  Maybe… though I doubt it.  I don’t have any fundamental problems with my suburban life, or my job, or anything like that.  Most of the time I enjoy it.  Ultimately I think it comes down to admiring those with the drive to follow their passions, even when their passions take them to difficult places.  It’s not so much what they’re doing, it’s how they’re doing it.

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Which brings me to this recently acquired copy of The Fight Is On.  This comp is filled with the kind of outlier artists who intrigue me – Coil, Nurse With Wound, Current 93, The Hafler Trio… musicians who take approaches to music that are well outside of the mainstream, sometimes going so far that you could consider them anti-music.  I’m fascinated by them, and while none are on regular rotation in my life, when I listen to them their sonic compositions do have an effect on me.  Not anything clearly defined, mind you.  There are no fantasies that arise from hearing them.  But what they do is they change the way I perceive, which in essence is changing the way my brain is wired, opening me up to new and different and unexpected possibilities to see things in different ways.  And that’s something valuable, not just in how I interact with music, but also in how I interact with the world.

The nine tracks on The Fight Is On are on the more elemental end of the spectrum, songs that create a mood without generating a sense of anxiety or dread.  So once again I’ve been thrown for a loop, as The Fight Is On did not give me what I expected from these performers.  Instead I have something bordering on enjoyable.  Which of course begs the question – would I have felt this way hearing The Fight Is On say five years ago… or has my paradigm shifted in ways that change how I perceive these songs today?  My money is on the latter, and for that I’m grateful.

Grísalappalísa – “Týnda Rásin” (2019)

After nearly a decade together Grísalappalísa are calling it quits, and they’re going out in style with one final album, Týnda Rásin, the vinyl pressing including a 20-page full-sized color booklet of photos and lyrics.  But despite the prettiness of the packaging, the album itself came from a dark place.  Per the band:

This album is about a frequency that no one tunes into, a channel virtually hidden from our perception and whose broadcasts reach only a deep, dark void. It is an echo chamber, a path you find yourself in in the darker times of life and swallows you, ironically, by your own doing. For us, this channel represents depression, anxiety and isolation, to be at a crossroads with yourself and on the margins of society. It’s about experiencing yourself as a failure, an exposure of yourself and the sudden realisation that you won’t be the rockstar that the 16-year-old you wanted to be.

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I can’t speak to Týnda Rásin’s lyrical message since the vocals are in Icelandic, but the music and the vocal tone support this view.  It’s an album of varying styles, not in that there is a country song followed by something hip hop, but more within the general indie rock space that Grísalappalísa exists in (♠).   Týnda Rásin lacks a sonic cohesiveness.  But that’s not intended as an insult, simply an observation.  You’ve got the punkish “Kvæðaþjófurinn” (my favorite track) followed by a more spoken-word-styled number in “Keyri Heim Á Þorláksmessu”, all of it tied together by and underlying angst, a sense of anomie.  And they do stretch the limits, especially on the experimental, free-jazz-like “Taugaáfall Í Bónus” with its vocal anxiety mirrored by the emotional and unstructured piano.

You can give it a listen for yourself HERE.  I don’t see the vinyl listed on Bandcamp right now, but this came out on the Reykjavik Record Shop imprint, so I’m sure you can contact the shop directly if you want to get your hands on a physical copy.

(♠) OK, with the possible exception of the very country “Undir Sterku Flúorljósi” that is…

Miles Davis – “Miles In Tokyo” (1969 / 2019)

GET 51279_Miles In Tokyo_JacketThis was the only record on the Record Store Day Black Friday list that caught my eye, so I didn’t bother heading anywhere early, instead making it over to Easy Street about three hours after it opened.  And there it was – one copy left of Miles In Tokyo.  Almost as if I planned it.

Reviews of Miles In Tokyo seem to center on what was apparently a lack of chemistry between Davis and recently added tenor sax player Sam Rivers.  I’d be lying if I said this was somehow apparent to my inexperienced jazz ears – I think Rivers sounds tremendous, and the entire quintet (including Herbie Hancock on keys) come together quite well, particularly on “My Funny Valentine”.

Epic Rain – “All Things Turn To Rust” (2019)

With All Things Turn To Rust Epic Rain takes us on a guided tour into insanity.  The only question remaining is, is this a one way trip?

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Dripping with jazz influences, Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason continues to push to evolve as Epic Rain, over time moving from hip hop to pure storytelling, both with words and sounds.  The opening track, “Lumaclad Reflector”, drifts off towards the classical end of the spectrum, the instrumental establishing the sombre mood of the album, casting a damp nighttime blanket over you, the closing repeated note sounding like a distorted fog horn off in the distance… but you can’t tell the direction it’s coming from… I wondered for a moment if we weren’t in store for an instrumental album, but the next track “Distortion of Reality” quickly erased that thought (though there are other instrumental tracks) as I was ushered into a killer’s mind, his thoughts and motivations laid bare, Jóhannes’ voice matter-of-factly painting the scene, both internal and external.  “Every Road” takes us on another trip deep into a depraved and, in this case, hopeless mind, this time using a martial style snare drum roll to act as a counter to the depth of the rest of the music.  This time it’s a suicide.  Or is it a murder suicide… ?  I’m not quite sure.  On “Apart” we find him on the verge of singing, the lyrics including a chorus and patterns that give them a style closer to rock than hip hop while still maintaining the sense of setting, of place and time.  A female vocalist joins Epic Rain on “Mirror Maze”, “Framing the Sky”, and “Evil By Heart”, taking over the duties with her underlying sadness, the sound of someone so exhausted that they don’t have any more tears to give but still haven’t managed to purge those feelings, a contrast from Jóhannes’ more menacing style.  He returns to close the album on “Trading Secrets” (I trade secrets with your reflection in the water…), the tempo picking up as the races to the finish.  Is it the dawn peaking over the horizon?  Did we survive another dangerous night to arrive at the respite of daylight?  And will tomorrow night bring more of the same…?

All Things Turn To Rust is available to stream, as well as purchase by download or on limited release vinyl on the Epic Rain Bandcamp page HERE.  You can also pick it up directly from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, as it’s on their own Lucky Records label as well.

Subminimal – “Intemperie” Cassette (2019)

subminimalintemperieSubminimal is Icelander electronic musician Tjorvi Oskarsson, and Intemperie is his latest solo release.  While Oskarsson made his name in drum and bass, Intemperie sees him moving in a more ambient, atmospheric direction, a collection of five long, quiet passages that are more about setting a mood than your putting your feet in motion.  The songs take us to peaks of sorts, but there are no dramatic bass drops here, instead a gradual dropping off as each song eventually fades out.  There’s a cinematic quality to the pieces, something perfect for documentary films featuring long, slow, beautiful shots in high definition, the kind usually reserved for nature and space-related themes.

Intemperie is available digitally and via cassette (limited to 50 copies) on Subminimal’s Bandcamp page HERE.