One of the challenges about being into Icelandic vinyl is that it isn’t easy to find. Even in Reykjavik your options for older records is severely limited, with Lucky Records and some people who sell at the flea market as your best options. Combine that with most releases never being issued outside of or exported from Iceland and the country’s small population, there weren’t a lot of copies pressed of most albums. A lot of the classics have been reissued on CD, and I stocked up on quite a few when I was there last fall (eliciting an observation from the guy ringing me up at the store, “not the stuff I usually see tourists buying…”), but at the end of the day I’m still more into the vinyl. So what’s an Icelandic vinyl collector living in Seattle to do?
Well, fortunately we live in the age of fancy computers and Al Gore’s invention, the internet, so I have access to other music fans and businesses who are interested in selling their vinyl to me. And that, friends, is how I came across this nice copy of Með allt á hreinu for what I thought was a very reasonable price… in fact my total cost was less than it would have cost me just to have one record shipped from Iceland. How this record made it’s way across the Atlantic I’ll never know, but I was glad to find it. Sorry to my record selling friends in Reykjavik – I promise I’ll keep buying stuff from you when I’m in the country, but I can’t pass up deals when I find them.
Með allt á hreinu is actually a movie soundtrack (which translates roughly to “On Top”) released at the very end of 1981, followed by the film itself in 1982. The comedy follows the antics of two real bands, the all-male Stuðmenn and the all-female Grýlurnar, as they tour the country, develop a rival, and engage in general hijinks. I’ve reviewed Grýlurnar before on a previous blog post, and while they were more on the punkish side, Stuðmenn are pretty much all over the place, known more as good-time group that doesn’t stick to any one genre and often incorporates comedy in their music. This joint album was both very popular (allegedly 18,000 copies printed) and highly regarded, with Jonatan Gardarsson and Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen listing it as the 15th best Icelandic album of all time. Gardarsson and Thoroddsen’s book is a great resource to get a handle on some of the best in Icelandic music (Sigur Ros holds down the top spot with Agaetis byrjun), or at least it is in pictures since I don’t speak and therefore can’t read Icelandic. With no Rosetta Stone Icelandic looking to be available any time in the near future, I think I’m screwed.
Með allt á hreinu covers the gamut musically. You’ve got doo-wop, new wave, adult contemporary, easy listening, island beats, calypso (yes, calypso), Elvis-esque crooning, and I’m pretty sure I even heard a kazoo in there. It’s too bad hip hop hadn’t made it to Iceland yet, as I’d like to hear how they would have incorporated that into the mix too. It reminds me a lot of the Grease soundtrack actually – it’s a bit over the top and exaggerated, and more or less all over the place. The musicianship is great though, so the weaving in and out of all the different styles is actually quite enjoyable, as is the mix of male and female vocals. I suspect I’m missing out on a lot of the fun of this album by not knowing Icelandic, but the quality of the sound still makes for a great listening experience, so if you have an open mind and can track down a copy give it a shot.