“Is this New Order?”
“No. It’s new Berndsen.”
“Well you can see why I’d think that, right?”
Yes Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, I can. I had just been thinking the same thing as I listened to the first few songs of Berndsen’s 2013 release Planet Earth, so when she came home in the middle of “Gimmi Gimmi” it just reinforced what I’d already been mulling over in my head.
We first discovered Berndsen when we stumbled upon one of his live off-venue sets at Iceland Airwaves 2011, which prompted us to go right out and buy his debut CD, 2009s sad-pop masterpiece Lover In The Dark. We saw him again in Reykjavik last year, this time at KEX Hostel, where he played a set exclusively pulled from his then just released sophomore effort Planet Earth, a high-energy set that found me a bit uncomfortably close to a big, sweaty, shirtless Benrdsen as he climbed onto the bench I was sitting on. I’ve been told there is some awkward photographic evidence of this incident, but fortunately it doesn’t seem to have made it to the web (and please don’t consider this a challenge if you have possession of such images!). I’m not sure how we came home from that trip without a copy of Planet Earth in hand, but that’s what happened. I kept telling myself I’d pick it up on iTunes, then never did. Finally I found myself putting in an order with Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, remembered this hole in my record collection (it includes a download card for a free mp3 version of the album too, BTW), and added it to my purchases.
Planet Earth finds vocalist Berndsen once again teamed up with electronics genius Hermigervill, himself a talented electronica solo artist. The two groove together so well that it’s impossible to tell if they start with the music or the words with their seamless integration. Fellow electronic music stud Oculus is credited with mastering the album, which could do nothing but make it even better, and bassists Arnljótur Sigurðsson (Ojba Rasta) and Jakob Smári (Tappi Tíkarrass – yes, Björk’s early 1980s punk band) make this a pretty impressive group of Icelandic all-stars. Surrounding yourself with talented musicians and producers is never a bad idea, and it paid noticeable dividends on Planet Earth.
The new album finds Berndsen branching out a bit from his pure, 80s sad sugar-pop sound on Lover In The Dark and moving in a more spacey, faux futuristic direction – think visions of what we thought the future would look like back in the 1980s. Visually you can see it not just in the album cover, but also in the track list that includes songs with titles like “Data Hunter,” “X-Cryonics,” and “Lifeless Planet.” The electronics are still the primary drivers of the musical sound, though the aforementioned bassists get into the act and there’s even some guitar solo work in “X-Cryonics,” so Berndsen and Hermigervill branched out a bit in terms of the music itself. There appear to be some guest female vocals (in French!) on “Two Lovers Team” as well.
I have to admit that it wasn’t until the second listening that I started to get into Planet Earth. I fell into the typical fan “trap” of wanting a record that was just a continuation of what I loved from the last album, and while Planet Earth has plenty of similarities to Lover In The Dark, it’s also maybe a half step move towards the darker side of the 80s pop sound, hence the previous New Order reference. Lyrically Berndsen sticks with a lot of relationship themes, but seems to be less straight forward and overt than on his earlier effort, using more metaphorical language that in a way gives his songs more depth – after the first few listens I thought he’d actually moved away from the themes of Lover In The Dark until I took a closer listen and realized I just hadn’t been paying as much attention to the words as they deserved.
My favorites are the Cyndi Lauper “She Bop”-esque “Gimmi Gimmi,” the beautiful “Two Lovers Team,” and “Monster Forest,” the last of which is the most like his material from Lover In The Dark. The vinyl will probably be pretty hard to find in the US, but with Planet Earth being just a few clicks away on iTunes for less than $10 you don’t have an excuse to not at the very least take a listen for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.