The Avengers – “The Avengers” (1983)

avengersReleased in 1983, The Avengers is a collection of pretty much all the studio recorded material of the band by the same name, San Francisco punks The Avengers.  All the tracks date from 1977/78, ground zero for west coast punk rock.  The music is raw, sped up rock ‘n’ roll with Penelope Houston’s angst-ridden vocals lighting the fuse and turning it into a punk inferno.  It’s all attitude and rebellion and defiance, the elements that kicked off punk’s rebellion against the mainstream.  The Avengers may be best known as the openers for the Sex Pistol’s last concert, but that would be selling them very short because The Avengers clearly shows them to be a talented in their own right.  Their stance is aggressive, the music is tight without being polished, and the lyrics are a huge “screw you” to society at large.

The Avengers has been re-releasd on vinyl a handful of times over the years, so affordable copies should be available.  Some of the CD versions include some extra tracks as well, so be choosy if you’re looking to pick up a copy.

Þeyr – “Þagað Í Hel” (1980)

I spent a few decades actively involved in the sports memorabilia world, both as a collector and a seller.  In fact my dad owned and operated a baseball card shop in the 1990s back when that was actually something you could earn a living at.  I’ve attended shows and conventions in at least a half dozen states plus Canada.  I’m not active in it any more – I sold off most of my stuff over the years, and at least some of that money ended up going to records.

But that’s not why I’m bringing up my hobby history.  It’s because the sports memorabilia world was the first place I heard people refer to “The Holy Grail”, or often simply “Grail”, in a context that didn’t involve blood and wine.  Back in the day auction catalogs constantly tried to outdo each other in hyperbole, and one of the ways they’d do that was to refer to a rare or valuable item as “The Holy Grail of [fill in the blank]”, with [fill in the blank] replaced by “Tobacco Cards” or “Babe Ruth Cards” or “Hall of Fame Autographs” or “Greg Jeffries Donruss Rookie Cards”. (♠)  Generally the term was used to describe the best of something.

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In the record collecting world the term Grail is used in a similar way, but one that is more personal.  It’s not unusual for a collector to as another “what’s your Grail”, meaning the record that you desperately desire but don’t have either due to cost or scarcity, the record that always seems to have been found by someone else 15 minutes before you got to the shop or show, your elusive vinyl nemesis.  I don’t think I’ve had a Grail per se since getting back into vinyl, but the closest album is probably Þeyr 1980 debut Þagað Í Hel.  It’s the one album that I’ve actually told people, “if you ever get a copy of this for sale, put it aside because I’ll 100% buy it”.  It’s the only album I ever marked as a “Want” on Discogs.  And I haven’t seen one for sale anywhere since I started looking a few years back.  Sure, an acquaintance on Facebook had a line on one for a while, but that fell through, and apparently I was a few weeks too late to Reykjavik Record Shop a few years ago and a collector from Japan walked out with their copy.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been actively looking for it, but I’d also say I put more effort into trying to find a copy than I have for any other record.

And about two weeks ago I got an automated email from Discogs letting me know that a seller just posted a copy of Þagað Í Hel that day.  Within five minutes of getting that email I ordered it, then endured a painful 10 day wait for it to make it here from Sweden.  On Thursday I snuck out during my lunch break and picked it up at the post office, and today I’ve been sitting here just sort of looking at it, almost afraid to play it.  The collecting drive is often more about the chase than the actual having of the object, a perversely masochistic mindset.  But I can’t put it off any longer.  It’s been cleaned on the Okki Nokki and is ready to hit the turntable.

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Þeyr got their first record deal on the strength of a couple of pop songs they’d written, but when they went into the studio to cut Þagað Í Hel their style changed to something more new wave-ish, so much so that it almost didn’t get released.  Reportedly somewhere between 300 and 500 copies were pressed, and according to legend the masters were destroyed in a fire, which likely explains in part why none of these eight songs ever made it onto CD.

The opening track “En…” is reminiscent of early Talking Heads, followed immediately by the rockabilly-inspired “…Nema Jói”, so clearly there are no rules being followed here.  Which leads us to “Hringt”, adding a sort of disco thing to the mix and starting to give me the sense that Þeyr was still exploring at this point in their trajectory together, not yet having established the more post-punk sound that came to define their handful of later releases (they last performed in 1982 and put out their lasts release, a 7″, in 1983).  By the second half of “Heilarokk” we start to get some glimpse into the direction they eventually went, breaking free of traditional song structures into something unique to Þeyr.  Of course the ABBA-like “Eftir Vígið”, replete with it’s female vocals and harmonies, is like an unexpected bucket of ice cold water on your head.

Þagað Í Hel certainly wasn’t the record I expected, but it does provide some insight into the band’s early influences and is an intriguing starting line when you consider how they sounded on Mjötviður Mær (which was the very first record I ever wrote about on Life in the Vinyl Lane) just a year later.  It remains impossibly hard to find, but fortunately some intrepid souls have recorded these eight tracks and posted them on YouTube!, so if you want to give them a listen just go search there using the album name.

(♠)  No one has ever said this about the 1988 Donruss Greg Jeffries rookie card, at least not with any level of sincerity.  Jeffries was projected by many to be “the new hot rookie”, and that year my dad bought an insane amount of 1988 Donruss baseball cards.  I spent uncountable hours sitting at the small table in his shop going through box after box of these cards, sorting them numerically and putting aside the Jeffries cards.  He went on to be a solid player for a dozen or so seasons, but never became a star and those boxes of Jeffries cards became little more than recycling fodder.  But hey, dad was paying me by the hour, so I was happy to sort, sort, sort…

Mark Trecka – “Everything Falling Crosses Over” Cassette (2019)

everythingfallingOpening with a high-speed and only vaguely tonal piano passage, Everything Falling Crosses Over‘s A side track “First / Kicking / Form” captures your attention with its almost clinical composition.  But then… then a change starts to emerge.  Slowly, moving, curving like a sine wave and becoming something… different… but still similar, the piano warmer now with more depth and range. But then… the… the vocals come in and the complexion changes again… and again… the merging of all these parts into one composition something that clearly shouldn’t work, but does.

The B side is broken down into three tracks, each unique in character but with similar enough frameworks that they feel like part of a whole.  The vocal interludes remain startling, almost otherworldly in how the seem to suddenly emerge from the mist and plant themselves into the soundscape, growing, living, then wilting before being overtaken by the mist once again.  At least until the last number, “The Wrestled To Regard”, which is all about the vocals, hitting you with them right out of the gate, an unexpected close to the album.

Everything Falling Crosses Over is my first experience with Mark Trecka and it most certainly won’t be my last.  This was not the album I was expecting to hear when I played it, though those preconceptions are on me.  I also didn’t expect to like it as much as I do – it’s something truly unexpected and captivating.  Available by cassette in a limited edition of only 50 copies, if you want the physical media you better get on this one fast.  You can find it HERE.

“Liquid Sky Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (1983)

I went through a phase as a teenager during which I tired to watch as many weird movies as possible.  To some extent I succeeded.  But this wasn’t an easy thing to do back in the 1980s.  Obviously there was no streaming and movies on cable were limited to a relatively small number of channels like HBO and Showtime, so the best source was your local video store.  If you were lucky it was a big shop.  It if was a mom-and-pop place, well, your options were pretty limited.  Plus there was the whole problem of getting to the video store if, like me, you lived kind of in the sticks.  Someone’s parents had to drive you and be willing to wait around while you read the back of the box for every strange thing that caught your eye.  Times were hard.  We earned it.

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Somehow I missed Liquid Sky, which is too bad because I’m pretty sure I’d have rented it over and over again.  Holly and I ran across it on a streaming service the other day and it kind of blew our minds.  The story is that aliens come to Earth searching for heroin, only to find that human brain chemistry during orgasms is more power, so they start basically “taking” people when they’re in the throws of passion.  Because… it’s the early 1980s.  And there were Russians involved in the filming.  Add in some neon, tons of make-up, androgyny, drugs, sex, and a cast and crew with almost no filmmaking experience and you have a major head-trip.

Almost the entire Liquid Sky score was composed on a Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument, it’s 8-bit recordings contributing to something that sounded both futuristic and sort of child-like at the same time, a step in what quickly became rapidly-evolving progression of musical technology. Much of it has a plinky, calliope-like sound to it, but with added elements that take that familiar feeling and twist it, infusing an undercurrent of creepy dread into everything.  Most of the tracks are instrumental, with the notable exception of the no-wavish “Me And My Rhythm Box” in all of it’s delightful strangeness. The entire thing is pretty bizarre.  Just like the movie.

Þórir Georg – “Fallið Er Dáið” (2019)

thorirgeorgfallidÞórir Georg has a broad musical palette – indie, folk, hardcore, metal… his musical travels are far and wide, and the one thing you always know you’re going to get from Georg is 100% sincerity.  Whatever he is working on at the moment, he’s pouring everything he has into the music.

Georg’s latest release is a 19-minute ambient track recorded on the day he learned of the passing of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith.  Somber ambient, it captures the damp cold of a Reykjavik winter, the wind penetrating even the thickest leather jacket, your pant cuffs soaked and wicking up cold water as you trudge through the few hours of twilight before darkness arrives again.  It’s a reflective piece that captures the sense of loss we feel when someone important to us dies.  It doesn’t matter that we never met them, because their art touched us at times in our lives when that was of paramount importance.  It’s a different kind of mourning than one experiences for a friend or loved one, but a strong feeling nonetheless, one still capable of dampening our mood.

Bluesanct put out Fallið Er Dáið (which translates to The Fall Is Dead) in a limited edition of 50 cassettes.  It’s available both in physical format as well as digital at the label’s Bandcamp page HERE, and you can also listen to the entire thing for free.