Börn – “Börn”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember a post I wrote about a cassette I got by an Icelandic band called Norn.  I wrote all this stuff about the singer, and it was jacked up, because not only was I wrong about who I thought was the singer, I was even wrong about the singer’s gender.  I made some corrections, but left my errors up there for all to see as a monument to my own dumb-assery.  Such is life in the vinyl lane.

Well, it turns out Norn are no longer Norn, but they are in fact now known as Börn, and in fact The Band Formerly Known As Norn has a new record out (released July 15), and yes it’s even on vinyl!  As soon as I heard about it, I put in an order with my friends at their label, Paradísarborgarplötur, and they shipped a copy right out to me.  From Iceland to my mailbox in Seattle in about a week.  Not too shabby.  So I get a second chance to review this band.  I’ll try not to mess it up (as much) this time.

bornborn

One thing is apparent right out of the gate on Börn – the sound is a lot more clear than it was on the tape I have.  And I say that guessing that the tape was supposed to have that metallic-tinged, distant sound that sort of defined it.  For this record Börn are more up front about their playing and vocals, which is great because they are a solid group of musicians.  The guitar work is tight, especially on “Ef,” and the vocals are clear and edgy.

 

The overall vibe is on the post-punk side of things, at least to my ears, with a sort of somewhat dark and seemingly tuned down vibe, which gives it some weight and a legitimate mood.  “Bara hrós” is probably the track most generally representative of Börn’s overall style, and its probably my favorite song on the record after about 3-4 listens.  “Auðn” is the gloomiest number, and the one that reminds me the most of the Norn cassette, though even this piece of raw darkness sounds great.

At seven songs and about 21 minutes, it’s a pretty quick listen, and like their tape, Börn can be heard online if you just go HERE, so you have no excuse to not go give them a listen.  Try something different.  And if you like it, buy it!  Better yet, treat yourself and order the vinyl before it’s all gone, because I suspect this one will be hard to find soon.

Orghestar – “Konungar Spaghettifrumskógarins”

Konungar Spaghettifrumskógarins… now that is a mouthful.  Supposedly the band name translates into something like “screaming horses,” while the album title is along the lines of “King of the Spaghetti Jungle.”  Because, I mean, why wouldn’t you call an album that?  Right?

orghestar

I don’t know much about this band or this four song EP from 1982, which looks like it might be their only release.  I know I picked this up on a bit of a lark at Airwaves in 2012, and I think my copy is actually signed on the reverse by guitarist Gestur Guðnason.  There’s a tiny bit of info about it online, but I have no idea if any of it is correct.  Supposedly only 300 copies of Konungar Spaghettifrumskógarins were released… but who knows.  I’m sure it’s technically rare.  But then again, it’s value is still defined by the intersection of the supply and demand curves (I knew Economics 101 in college would pay off someday!), and I don’t know that there are many people out there looking for it.

And after listening to side A, I was really doubting anyone at all was looking for it.  The two songs on that side are pretty bland rock numbers.  But then I flipped it over and heard “ÞEMAÞSEM,” which is a very cool old school sounding punk track.  Orghestar is generally described as “punk” though I really don’t hear that at all.  The second track on the reverse side, “Kannski,” is a bit reggae-ish and decent, but not really a punk number either.  Perhaps tellingly the one song I really like (“ÞEMAÞSEM”) is the only one written by Guðnason, with the other three credited to Benóný Ægisson.  That’s the one that makes this worth tracking down.

Konungar Spaghettifrumskógarins is certainly both interesting and obscure.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Remember that song that I told you was my favorite on the EP?  Someone has it posted to their music blog HERE.  It’s track #18 on that playlist.  Enjoy!

Þeyr – “The Fourth Reich” EP

I dipped into my Icelandic vinyl the other day for the first time in a while.  Due to limited shelf space the Icelandic stuff is in a completely different room than the rest of my records, and sometimes out of sight is out of mind.  I don’t add to it often either, so I could easily go weeks at a time without even catching a glance of all those gems hidden away in a cabinet behind frosted doors.  But recently I’ve been playing the hell out of one of my Warsaw records, and I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between some of their songs and the sound of their Icelandic contemporaries Þeyr.  Which got me thinking about, and playing, some of that great Icelandic vinyl.

theyrfourthreich

The Fourth Reich came out in 1982 and is one of the last releases by the band, coming out the same year as the English language compilation As Above… (which did include a couple of new tracks as well) and was followed only by the Lunaire 7″ the following year.  The EP generated significant controversy with what many deemed to be Nazi imagery on the cover combined with a title that also carried Nazi connotations.  In fact the man shown on the front is psychotherapist/inventory/crazy idea guy Wilhelm Reich, and the image on the armband he’s wearing is actually the symbol of orgone energy, a sort of new age idea of Reich’s.  Ironically Reich had written critically about fascism and in fact his works were banned by the Nazis.  Regardless, someone decided to come out with an alternate jacket that just had the EP name on it.  I was fortunate enough to find my Icelandic label version not in Iceland, but at a great shop called Trash Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.

Musically I find The Fourth Reich to be more straight ahead early new wave, especially the two tracks on side A.  On the flip side “Zen” gets back to that more familiar, odd territory that defines Þeyr’s sound to me, with seemingly unusual cords and timing changes, and “Blood” also has a lot more of their original sound.  I forget how good these guys were sometimes.  One of these days I’ll finally break down, bite the bullet, and pay an outrageous amount of money for their debut LP Þagað Í Hel, renowned both for its rarity and because the masters were supposedly destroyed in a fire… so no CD forthcoming.  Maybe I’ll be able to track one down to purchase on our trip to Airwaves this fall.  We’ll see.

For an introduction to Þeyr, I recommend the 12-song compilation Mjötviður Til Fóta released back in 2001.  It is, of course, out of print and collectible in its own right, but it’s also the most reasonably priced introduction to the band outside of listening to songs on YouTube.  They’re worth the effort.

Les Rallizes Denudés – “Heavier Than A Death In The Family”

I’ve written about the Japanese psych band Les Rallizes Denudés before, having picked up a copy of Blind Baby Has Its Mother’s Eyes on our recent trip to Japan.  I’d first heard of them in Julian Cope’s book Japrocksampler:  How the Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock ‘N’ Roll, so was glad to be able to track down an album when we were there.  Cope had great praise for that record, but even more for the double album Heavier Than A Death In The Family, which he had in the #3 slot in his Top 50 list of Japanese albums.  I actually sort of fell into this copy by accident when ordering Gina X Performance from the guys over at the Medical Records label, as they just happened to have a copy of this that they were selling as well even though it isn’t one of their releases, having come out on Phoenix back in 2010.  Regardless of why it happened to be there, I wasn’t going to pass it up.

lesrallizesheavierthanadeath

There’s actually a lot of similarities between the two Les Rallizes Denudés albums I’ve heard.  Both have copious amounts of feedback and veritable walls of noise that take up most of the musical space.  When the vocals do come into the mix they have to fight for room, but are more or less ethereal and sort of drowning under the current of the guitars and cymbals.  It’s noise… but it’s a flat out trip.  It’s not for everyone, that’s for certain.  Hell, I’m not even sure it’s for me.  But it is interesting, and captivating in its own intense way.

After the double barreled, full frontal assault of the first two tracks, “Night Of The Assassins” is a bit of a reprieve from the sheer volume of feedback, with it’s old school, early rock ‘n’ roll beat and heavily distorted surf-style guitars that give the vocals room to have an impact – this is more of a traditional “song,” though still flat out weird.  Think “Stand By Me,” but on acid.  But probably not a version you’d want to listen to if you actually were on acid, because it would probably make your face melt.  “Enter The Mirror” slows it down even more, casting aside most of the violent feedback (though with an ever-present background buzzing) to create a sparse soundscape that makes Mizutani’s vocals even more haunting, and even a bit disturbing.  But don’t worry, by the time “People Can Choose” rolls around, the wall of feedback is back, with a vengeance.  I think that bass line will be burned into my brain for days.

Les Rallizes Denudés play some wild, out-there stuff.  They went to the edge and just kept on walking – no toying around here, just keep moving.  It can be tough to listen to at times, but there are rewards there if you can be patient enough, and Heavier Than A Death In The Family may just expand the way you think about music by a little bit… and every bit helps.

Bless – “Gums”

I’m not sure why I never got around to writing about this record before.  I’ve had it for a while – I think it was part of the first batch of records I ever bought from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, back when they were crammed into their tiny original store.  My guess is I listened to it once and never got back to it.  I’m not sure what prompted me to put it on today, other than that I’d just been playing some Tappi Tíkarrass and so happened to be perusing my Icelandic vinyl shelf.  And much to my surprise, who’s voice did I hear coming out of my speakers on the very first song?  Björk’s.  Which was a surprise, because Bless was not one of her bands.

blessgums

In fact the front man of Bless is none other than Dr. Gunni, he of S.H. Draumur and a man who I’ve met and actually bought records from, and a number of his friends appear on Gums.  In addition to Björk contributing vocals to “Worlds Collapse” and “Yonder,” her Sugarcubes bandmate and current Ghostigital frontman Einar Örn playse some trumpet on “You Are My Radiator” and none other than Óttarr Proppé of HAM and Dr. Spock fame appears on “Spidergod” (as the Spidergod himself).  It’s a veritable collection of Icelandic all-stars from the period when it was released (1990).  The lyrical content is all over the place, and certainly a bit odd – song titles include “The Shovel Of Love,” (burying a girl in a sandbox…) “Night Of Cheese,” (eating cheese and a bad relationship) and “The Killfuckman,” (murder, and possibly cannibalism) so you know it’s going to be different.

Musically Gums is an interesting record that’s hard to genre-fy.  It’s rock… but it doesn’t neatly fit into any of the normal subgenres.  Maybe I should just describe it as “indie” and leave it at that.  If there’s one band that Gums reminds me of, it would be Half Japanese, but Bless are much more talented musicians and Gunni, even with his unique delivery, is a better singer than Jad Fair.  But there are some similarities, including the often bizarre lyrics.

I need to give this one a few more spins.  There’s a lot here to like.  Just watch out for the killfuckman, or he’ll get ya.