One of the records I’d been kicking myself for not buying when I had the chance last year was Skemmtun (“Entertainment”), the 1985 release by Icelandic new wavers Með Nöktum (“With the Naked”). The band formed after the demise of Þeyr, primarily as a project of Magnús Guðmundsson and with a little help from Þorsteinn Magnússon. Anything associated with Þeyr is interesting to me, as they along with Purrkur Pillnikk feel like the departure point when Icelandic rock music moved away from what was happening in the rest of the world and added it’s own flavor, something I think has carried forward to today. So when I had a chance to get a copy at Airwaves last week (at Lucky Records… of course!), I jumped on it.
At only six songs and short of 20 minutes in length, Skemmtun sort of falls somewhere between an EP and an album. The style is, well…. kind of hard to describe. Are there elements of post-punk and new wave here? Yes. Does it fit comfortably into either genre? No. Some songs are easier to classify than others, like the opening track to side B “Swimmers” which to my ears has a darkwave, post-punk sound… but that’s immediately followed by the more straight forward new wave “Holes,” which sounds like a slightly slowed down 1980s David Bowie song. The side closes with the short burst that is “Lust,” a song that sounds like it could have easily appeared on a Þeyr album with it’s disjointed, oddly timed feel and sort of shouted vocals. It’s all over the place. Hell, the opening track “Emotional Swimming” is pretty rockabilly, so go figure.
Skemmtun is what I find interesting about much of Icelandic popular music. It takes me out of my musical comfort zone and forces me to pay attention. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I don’t. But it has expanded my views on music – both in terms of what is possible as well as opening me up to new things that I like, and being open to a broader range of experiences is what it’s all about.