Vonbrigði – “Kakófónia”

We’re headed back across the Atlantic, back to the original “land of the ice and snow,” Iceland, to take a listen to the punk/new wave band Vonbrigði.  I’d seen the Kakófónia seven-song EP a few years ago while in Reykjavik, but to be honest the price kind of scared me away.  But times change, and a vinyl quasi greatest hits EP Vonbrigði released in 2010 called Ó, Reykjavík got me thinking about the band again, as did their songs on the Rokk Í Reykjavík compilation I picked up last year at Airwaves, so when a nice copy of Kakófónia showed up on eBay (with insert!) recently I pulled the trigger.

Released in 1983, the sound of Kakófónia is that sort of post-punk transitioning into new wave kind of thing.  It certainly has that indescribable but quickly identifiable sound that seems to flow through other Icelandic bands like Theyr, KUKL, and Purrkur Pillinkk, but at the same time it feels more like what more mainstream pop was like during that time.  I hear some faint similarities to bands like the Talking Heads that also walked that line between punk and new wave, though the bass here is quick and snappy, driving the songs forward.  Vocal stylings are probably where Vonbrigði have the most in common with their countrymen, especially when it moves away from singing and more towards screaming and outlandish howling.  Their sound ranges from surf rock (“Kakómanía”) to futuristic space pop (“Bömmer”) and everything in between.

Vonbrigði means “disappointment” in Icelandic, though the band’s music is anything but disappointing.  It certainly “sounds” Icelandic in that indescribable way certain things sounds… reminiscent of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s now infamous 1964 statement about obscenity, that though he couldn’t precisely define it, “I know it when I see it.”    That’s how I feel about Icelandic music.  There’s more that sets 1970s and 80s bands apart from their contemporaries in other countries than just the language, but it’s a difficult if not impossible thing to describe.  Then again, maybe I’m completely delusional and just think I hear something that isn’t really there, a well-known phenomenon in listening.  Regardless, Kakófónia is a good album that seems to fit perfectly into that transitional period between the early Icelandic punks and that sound that later came to define a nation in the form of The Sugarcubes and Bjork’s solo works, so if you want something somewhat familiar, yet still a bit different, Vonbrigði is for you.

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