Bleiku Bastarnir – “Bleiku Bastarnir”

There’s exactly one thing that I have marked on my calendar that I wait for with anticipation every year.  It’s like a birthday and Christmas, and a four-day 4th of July weekend all rolled into one.  And not because I get gifts, or I just really enjoy taking time off from work (which I do).  But because of the chance to reconnect with friends.  The chance to travel.  The kókómjólk.  The music.  That thing circled on my calendar is the five days of Iceland Airwaves.  And it’s so close now I can almost feel the cold wind blowing up Laugavegur, smell the scent of lemon grass wafting out of Noodle Station, and taste the pylsa.  

And the music.  Don’t forget the music.

This time around the Vinyl Lane crew are heading out a bit early to spend five days in Norway before backtracking to Reykjavik for the festival.  I’m not sure exactly what awaits us in Oslo other than rain and black metal, but I have a feeling we’ll stay plenty busy.  But for now I’m sitting around the house.  Waiting.  Waiting to leave.

bleikubastarnirNone of this, of course, has anything to do with Bleiku Bastarnir, other than the fact that the  late 80s rockers were from Iceland.  It seemed weird to buy this on eBay given that I’ll be digging through tons of used vinyl IN Iceland in less than a week, but when the right record shows up at the right price, you buy it.  I know I’ve seen this before on previous trips to Iceland, but I don’t know why I never picked it up.  But now I can mark another one off the list.

My friend Wim wrote about them briefly on his now inactive I Love Icelandic Music blog, which is still a pretty valuable resource.  Bleiku Bastarnir got some good press and opened for the Sugarcubes (and in fact were released on the Sugarcubes own label Smekkleysa (a.k.a. Bad Taste)) a few times, but they only put out the one six-song self-titled album back in 1987.  Which is a bummer, because the music is really good, particularly the uptempo “Sveittur I Strigaskóm” with it’s classic old school rock ‘n’ roll riffs and guitar work that reminds me of some kind of George Thorogood.  It’s equal part blues, rockabilly, and rock ‘n’ roll, with a splash of punk rock attitude thrown in for good measure.  They mix up the pace well with both faster, more rockabilly numbers, and slower, more bluesy songs.

Too bad these dudes didn’t keep going, because there’s a lot here to like.

And with that I will leave you… and when we next meet, it’ll be via a dispatch from Oslo!

Nurse With Wound – “Thunder Perfect Mind”

I’m part of the Facebook group “Now Playing,” which is basically a place for people to post pictures of whatever record they happen to be listening to at the moment so that others can comment on it.  Sure, there’s some run of the mill stuff, but since it primarily appeals to music junkies, a lot of what is posted borders on the esoteric, and a good chunk of it is stuff I’ve never heard of.  Which in and of itself is cool, not in a pretentious “look how obscure I am,” but in a, “huh, that looks interesting, maybe I need to look into it” kind of way.

The first time I’d heard of Nurse With Wound (NWW) was when trying to decide about buying a Death In June record (though not the one I ultimately bought and wrote about), and in the course of my research on the later I came across references to the former.  And Nurse sounded unusual.  Difficult.  Challenging.  Kind of the, “is this art or crap” way.

Nursewithwoundthunderperfect

I didn’t really consider buying any NWW albums, but I was still sort of intrigued.  So when a Now Playing member posted one of their NWW albums I took a look at the comments.  And that’s how I came across Luke, who was a big fan and offered to give people good “starting points” if they were interested in checking out NWW, pointing people towards the style of Nurse albums that best fit their interests.  So I emailed him and asked for some recommendations.  And never heard back.  Bummer.  Then a few weeks ago I was looking at my Facebook inbox and remembered that there was an “Other” box and that stuff sometimes gets lost in there… and there was an email from Luke to me and two other people, breaking down the Nurse With Wound catalog.  I immediately responded and thanked him, and it turned out one of the other recipients hadn’t seen his email either, but did get my response.

So one of the two records Luke recommended for the more industrial side of Nurse With Wound was 1992s Thunder Perfect Mind (the other was 1994s Rock ‘n Roll Station).  I found a copy of the 2001 vinyl version of the release on Discogs and ordered it, and here I sit today, listening to it for the first time.  And it is industrial, in the truest sense of the word (to my ears – more on that in a sec).  Repetitive sounds for periods of time, abrasive, and boring a hole through the a lazy, rainy Saturday afternoon.  I think if I played the full length version of “Cold” and listened to it through headphones that I would emerge from the 23 minute experience with my DNA permanently altered.  Maybe in a good way.  Maybe not.

I just asked Holly what she thought.

Me:  “This is some serious industrial.”

Holly:  “Funny.  I was thinking the exact opposite.  It’s too… Mario.”  Meaning Mario Brothers.  Meaning to video game soundtrackish.

So I guess the first rule of Nurse With Wound Club is, “Your Mileage May Vary.”

It’s not “music” in the traditional sense.  It’s musical… but in the sense that it is an experimentation of sound.  And a lot of it throbbing, repetitive sound.  You can’t dance to it.  You can’t sing along (because, you know, there aren’t any words…).  You can only experience it.  In a way that forces its way into your head, by not just the use of repetition, but by then sudden breaks from the current repetitive patter, which is then replaced by a new one for a time.

Now, mind you, all of the above only applies to side A.  And this is a double album.

The vinyl version of Thunder Perfect Mind is interesting.  It’s four songs, spread over two records.  Side A is one song – the 23 minute “Cold.”  Side B is a five-and-a-half minute remix of “Cold” that sounds almost nothing like it – it’s much less grating that the parent track, and actually has something resembling a beat to it.  The second record is one long song called “Colder Still” that runs almost 34 minutes and covers the entirety of the two sides.  And this is a whole different kind of song than “Cold.”  If I was throwing a label at it, I’d call it “ambient horror industrial.”  It’s like a horror movie soundtrack, or really more like a horror movie song… if you could make the movie into music, this is what it would sound like.  There might be an exorcism happening, or some type of black magic.  Unlike on “Cold,” “Colder Still” gives us vocals, but their eerie and ethereal, like they’re coming at you from another plane of existence.  I really like “Colder Still.”

So the Nurse With Wound experiment comes to a close.  Will I check out more Nurse?  I don’t know; maybe.  If I can find a reasonably priced used record or CD, I’d give some more of their stuff a shot.  Thunder Perfect Mind isn’t going to make it into heavy rotation here at Casa de Vinyl Lane, but the second record will get some more plays, that’s for sure.  Especially with Halloween right around the corner.  I wonder if I can use it to scare the trick-or-treaters…

PLS PLS – “LP LP”

If I had to pick one American band that I feel most accurately captures the vibe of the Icelandic music scene with it’s sound, that would be Dan Dixon’s PLS PLS (pronounced Please Please).

plspls

Following 2012s EP, named EP EP, Dixon released the first full-length PLS PLS album the following you, which he of course named LP LP.  Its 10 songs defy easy categorization – there are basic pop and rock elements, but also synths, some new wave, indie…. the sound is everywhere, and it’s hard to contain with a simple genre label.  PLS PLS is more or less a Dixon solo project, though he had help from other musicians on various parts of different songs (I believe drummer Derek Murphy is the only person besides Dixon to play on every song). So it’s kind of a solo project… but one that allows for some other contributors to influence the sound a bit.

The reasons I think LP LP sounds Icelandic are that it’s very musically rich, but it often goes off in some unexpected directions – you can sense the influences in it without them being overt (other than the intro to “Exes,” which sounds a ton like an Iggy Pop song that I can’t quite place… but that’s only for 15 seconds or so).  There’s a definitely an 80s vibe here, but a very updated one.  Maybe it’s prog wave.  I don’t know.

It’s kind of hard to play favorites, though I am partial to “WCA” (which stands for “Whiskey, Cocaine, Adderall”… which sounds like a bad idea) and “Circles.”  The B side opens with “Fast As Light,” which is a great heavy synth pop number  that reminds me a bit of the previously reviewed and awfully obscure Lou Champagne System.  I’ve been really enjoying a lot of the 80s synth stuff lately, so it makes sense that the more modern but still familiar sound of PLS PLS would appeal to me.  A very pleasant surprise, and one I definitely recommend.

M – “The Official Secrets Act”

This is the last of the vinyl I picked up on my east coast trip last month.  I wasn’t saving it for last or anything, it just happened to work out that way.  I’d already listened to it a few times before putting it on tonight, and I have to admit, I’m looking forward to hearing it again, because it’s pretty damn good.

mofficialsecretsact

M was a late 1970s/early 1980s project of artist Robin Scott and The Official Secrets Act was his second LP, coming out in 1980.  At it’s root it’s very synth-pop, that poppish direction that broke free of the darker elements of post-punk and new wave to go off in a more bouncy direction.  But don’t think it’s just generic synth-pop, because Scott has some surprises for you.  And you get perhaps the biggest one right out of the gate with the atmospheric and sampled “Transmission (The World Is At Your Fingertips),” a song that builds slowly and is mostly defined by clips from what sound like radio or TV broadcasts.  Even his more standard fare like the impressive “Join The Party” have a combination of singing and parts that are sort of spoken, reminding me a bit of Gary Clail or maybe Thomas Dolby.  And it’s not just Clail and Dolby.  There are elements of Devo here too, and maybe even some Monty Python, such as on “Working For The Corporation,” a song that sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of Terry Gilliam’s brilliant movie Brazil.

There’s definitely a political vibe to this record.  Just look at the song titles – in addition to the three tracks previously mentioned, the others on side A are “Your Country Needs You” and “M’aider” (“Help Me”).  On the flip side you’ve got titles like “Keep It To Yourself” and “Official Secrets Act.”  Frankly the whole thing has a sort of slightly twisted, dystopian pop vibe, like a version of 1984 on nitrous or the original Logan’s Run.  It’s fun and a little funny, but there might be something more than a little scary lurking underneath.

M gives us a bit of everything – samples, weird throat sounds, orchestral arrangements, modulated vocals… and don’t forget the synths.  While it’s certainly dated to some extent (right down to the wailing saxophone on “Maniac”…), it’s actually held up pretty well, still feeling quasi-futuristic and clean.  Scott may not have scored the same chart success with The Official Secrets Act as he did with the hit single “Pop Muzik” from his debut, but what he did was put together an interesting blend of songs and elements that orbit his synth-pop planet.  And it works.

The Flamin’ Groovies – “Jumpin’ In The Night”

flamingrooviesjumpininthenightThe 4 Men With Beards label just re-released the 1979 classic Jumpin’ In The Night by The Flamin’ Groovies.  The San Francisco based rockers formed up all the way back in 1965, and this was their eighth full length album.  It’s got that distinctive garage psych-rock vibe to it that’s like totally far out man… really groovy.  While I kid a little, I do kind of dig it.  Though I am a bit surprised that a band with this much experience included so many covers on their album – five of the 13 tracks on Jumpin’ In The Night carry writing credits from others:

  • “Down Down Down,” written by Trevor Burton and performed as early as 1972 by Dave Edmunds
  • “Werewolves Of London” by, of course Warren Zevon
  • “Please Please Me” by a couple o’ pikers by the names of Lennon and McCartney (I’m sure they never made it…)
  • “Absolutely Sweet Marie” by Bob Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan)
  • “Lady Friend” by David Crosby

This reliance on covers is odd considering how good the rest of the material is.  Yes, it sounds a bit “dated” to today’s ears, but there are some solid psych originals on here like “It Won’t Be Long” and “First Plane Home.”  If there’s a weakness with Jumpin’ In The Night it’s that it fits the 60s garage psych scene so much that it almost seems campy, though I sincerely doubt any camp was intended.  I think we’ve all just built up this sort of “60s Sound” in our minds, and this just happens to fit right smack dab into the middle of it. All of which is ironic since this record originally came out in 1979.  You’d be forgiven for thinking it was from exactly a decade earlier.

Regardless, The Flamin’ Groovies show some solid rock chops, and the next time I feel like turning the lava lamp on, I might just give ’em a play.