SGNLS – “SGNLS” (2013)

Early this year I stumbled across the band SGNLS on a comp tape by the Suicide Bong label called Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1.  They were one of the better groups on the cassette, so I ordered a copy of their 2014 LP II from the label and really dug it.  I even exchanged emails with Tony from the band, and he told me that unfortunately their eponymous 2013 debut was sold out, which was too bad since I wanted to hear some of their earlier stuff.  Fortunately we have this thing now called the internet, and this website called eBay, and in less than a week I had a copy of SGNLS waiting for me in my mailbox. From there it promptly went onto my “unplayed” shelf where it remained for way too long, competing for turntable time with all kinds of other new toys that came into the house.  Today it was time to rectify that situation.

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SNGLS has a less heavy vibe than the subsequently recorded and released II.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have an edge, though.  While II seemed to add elements of metal to the overall darkwavey sound, SGNLS feels a bit more stripped down and punk rock.  Yes, the synths that define the band’s sound are still here, and they still rock out with them.  And there’s still that undercurrent of darkness (the first line sung on the album is “God is dead” on the song “Double Edged Sword”).  But man, if “Backlash” doesn’t remind you of a raw new wave version of the Dead Kennedys, I’ll refund the price you paid to subscribe to this blog (which is free, BTW).

I couldn’t escape the feeling that SGNLS was some sort of a concept album, though I have no reason to think that is the case.  The eight songs fit together well, and the instrumental tracks contributed to it feeling more like a  soundtrack than just an album.  I can’t explain it – it just has a certainly level of integration that made me feel like the album as a whole was greater than the sum of its eight songs.  But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it – you can listen to the entire thing for free, as well as all of II, right HERE, so decide for yourself.

Son Lux – “Lanterns” (2013)

My buddy Andy got into the vinyl game last year, and I may have kinda-sorta played a part in that fateful decision.  Andy joined us at Airwaves in November and I think all my talking about and buying of records gave him the bug.  Fortunately his wife has not held that against me.

One of the nice things about having friends who are also into vinyl is that sometimes you get a random record in the mail.  Andy and I have sent a few records back and forth, and he’s the one who sent me a copy of Basement Apartment that I reviewed a while back.  The most recent surprise arrival was the 2013 release by Son Lux (aka Ryan Lott), Lanterns.

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I’ve listened to Lanterns a few times over the last couple of months, but I haven’t written about it yet.  It feels like the kind of record that will take multiple listens to truly appreciate and I wanted to make sure I gave it the time and attention it so obviously deserves, so I’ve been putting off blogging about it.  Until now, obviously.  I’m not entirely certain why I feel like this is the right time, but as soon as the opening track “Alternate World” started I just knew.

 

Discogs describes Lanterns as “experimental,” which is pretty unhelpful when you think about it.  Experimental what?  I’ve also seen Son Lux described as “post rock” and even “alternative hip hop.”  Confused yet?  Because I am.  And I’ve already listened to it a half dozen times (though I still don’t know where it belongs on my shelves based on how I “group” my records…).  Marisa Brown’s Son Lux bio on Allmusic is probably the most helpful, describing the performer’s style as “ethereal, nocturnal music that drew from both hip-hop rhythms and experimental rock and electronica arrangements.”  Now we’re getting somewhere – at least somewhere that gives you some kind of idea as to Lott’s sound.

To be fair, Lanterns is difficult to put into a nice neat little box.  Electronic?  Check.  Vocals?  Check.  But it’s not as simple as all that.  Things aren’t quite what they seem, and even within songs Son Lux changes things up, like the beat drop at the 1:52 mark of “Pyre” that changes the complexion of what had been a quiet, whispy song into something much heavier and, frankly, creepier.  It’s like starting your day off with a nice early morning walk in the forest, only to have it suddenly go from day to night in a moment, leaving you feeling lost and sort of freaked out.  On “Enough of Our Machines” it’s a different kind of beat drop, with Son Lux bringing in an element that sounds like the pinging of a submarine sonar in some old war movie, a seemingly simple addition that, to me at least, changes the emotional balance of the song.

And what about that flute on “Lost It to Trying”?  (Andy warned me, “Watch out for the flute”…)  Son Lux opens the song with some fluttering flute playing, and then carries on that fluttering sound throughout the rest of the song – sometimes with the flute, sometimes with keyboards, sometimes with purely electronic sounds.  He’s taken one short burst of flutter and turned it into the basis of an entire song, and an excellent one at that.  Quite possibly the strongest cut on Lanterns.

I’ve been trying to come up with some artists who sound similar to Son Lux, but I’m not quite getting there.  He has some elements in common with Ólafur Arnalds, and the way he at time plays with harmonies and matching his music to the vocal sounds reminds me a bit of Of Monsters and Men (an example of this is “Plan the Escape”).  There’s an obvious Icelandic connection with these two artists, which I think fits as “Alternate Worlds” sounds Icelandic to me.  I know that’s a difficult thing to explain, but it just does.  Is “atmospheric electronic folk” a genre?  Because if it is, that might be as close as I can come to describing Lanterns using traditional terms.

Son Lux makes Lanterns (as well as his other albums) available for you to listen to online HERE.  If you’re into electronic based music with vocals, or just looking for something different, you really should check it out.

Record Shopping, Salt Lake City Style

A couple of months ago I was lamenting that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club doesn’t seem to tour in the US much and they never make it to Seattle so I can finally see them live.  Well, Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane has heard all this before, and when she realized they were going to be playing a Thursday night outdoor festival show in Salt Lake City she figured out that she had enough airline points to pay for our flights and hotel points to pay for our rooms… so… with the show tickets a whopping $5.50 apiece, and given that neither of us had ever been to SLC, we figured why not.

And let me tell you friends, they killed it, as did the opener Father John Misty.  The venue was great, the people were nice, and we had an awesome time even though it felt like we were on the surface of the sun during the day.  And, of course, no trip to a new city can be complete without hitting up some of the local record shops.  So…

Randy’s Record Shop

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CNN included Randy’s on its list of “10 of America’s Beloved Record Stores” in an online ARTICLE earlier this year.  It’s a nice shop – well laid out and organized, with a good combination of new and used material.  The punk section was decent sized, and they were deep in reggae as well.  I considered a few items, but ultimately I didn’t find anything unusual that caught my attention on this visit, so unfortunately I walked out empty handed.  But don’t let my lack of success deter you, because Randy’s has a broad selection and the guys working there were both quite nice, so it’s almost certainly a must-visit when you’re in SLC, especially if you like rock and/or reggae.

Diabolical Records

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Now this is my kind of record store.  Heavy emphasis on used material, well laid out, and lots and lots of punk, metal, and hardcore, with a nice section devoted to local releases to boot.  Owner Adam was working, and was a super cool guy.  He helped us pick out some local vinyl and tapes, plus invited us back the following night for a live in-store show he was putting on (which sounds like a semi-regular occurrence at Diabolical).  He also made sure to tell us that we should check out Raunch Records given what we were interested in – which is cool, since he certainly doesn’t need to point us towards a competitor.  All the local stuff we bought on the trip came from Diabolical, and you’ll likely see it start appearing on the blog in upcoming weeks.

The biggest surprise about Diabolical was finding a copy of Þeyr’s Mjötviður Mær there (the first record I ever wrote about on Life in the Vinyl Lane).  How did this Icelandic masterpiece end up in Salt Lake City (and the Icelandic version… not the English language version released as As Above…).  In fact the next day I was Facebook messaging with a buddy in Iceland (technology continues to blow my mind…) and told him about it, and it turns out that not only did he not have it, but he couldn’t find a copy there.  So I popped back over in the afternoon and picked it up for him, and today it’s headed back to its homeland

Ranuch Records

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Raunch has a bunch of cool stuff – records, zines, patches, buttons, skateboard decks… it’s a pretty sweet shop.  Once again, the owner was a cool dude, and he hooked me up with some unusual titles.  They’re super heavy on punk and extreme metal, and while the store isn’t huge the selection is pretty deep in those areas.  Had it not been for Adam’s recommendation, we likely would have never made the effort to figure out the public transit system and make our way down to Raunch (tip – the public transport is easy, cheap, clean and efficient in SLC, so use it!).

 

Overall our trip to SLC was a major success.  We got to see a great show, had some good food, and got to check out some decent shops.  While I didn’t come back with a full bag of vinyl, there’s still plenty I’m looking forward to listening to over the next few weeks.

Japanese Super Shift – “Double Slit Album” (2015)

double-slit-coverFrom time to time I contribute posts and album reviews to other music websites.  One I’m particularly proud to be associated with is ROK – Icelandic Music Review because, you know, I really like Iceland and Icelandic music.  So when Wim asked me if I wanted to check out the new album by Japanese Super Shift, I said “hell yes.”  You can check out the review HERE, and poke around and look at the rest of the page while you’re there!

The Sugarcubes – “Stick Around for Joy” (1991)

I have 170 records by Icelandic artists.  And that’s just on vinyl… it doesn’t even include tapes and CDs I’ve picked up.  And I’ve only been at it for maybe four years.  And yet, until last week, I had never purchased anything by The Sugarcubes.

How is this possible?  People joke that Björk is Iceland’s biggest export, yet there’s an element of truth to that, certainly from an American perspective.  Outside the Bobby Fischer / Boris Spassky match-up for the 1972 World Chess Championship and the 1986 Reagan / Gorbachev summit, which both took place in Reykjavik, most Americans were (and mostly still are) basically ignorant of Iceland.  And then The Sugarcubes happened.  And Björk happened. And now there are so many tourists going to Iceland that there are legitimate fears that all those people are actually damaging a surprisingly fragile ecosystem, one that Icelanders feel very connected to.

I like to think we fell in love with Iceland before there was a bandwagon.  It was more like a little shuttle bus with bald tires at that point.  But any time I mentioned the country, Björk and/or The Sugarcubes were invariably brought into the conversation.  So how did I manage to go this long without sitting down to listen to The Sugarcubes?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s an unconscious rebellion… sort of feeling like I couldn’t “discover” music that was already so well known?  After all, I’ve never listened to Sigur Rós either (no joke), and they’re probably the most popular Icelandic group among American music fans.  Hell, I haven’t even listened to either of Björk’s last two albums.

I suspect there is some truth to this.  I’m not intentionally ignoring these bands or albums, I just haven’t made even the remotest effort to listen to them.  And it’s not like we don’t have their music in the house, since Holly has had CDs by all of them for some time.  Simon Reynolds touches on these topics a bit in his fun book Retromania, and while it’s uncomfortable to feel like some type of ridiculous unconscious weaknesses and/or needs shapes my choices of what music to listen to, I have to be man enough to admit that it could be true.

sugarcubesstickaroundAnyway… I found this nice copy of The Sugarcubes’ last LP, 1991s Stick Around for Joy, the other day stuck in the 12″ singles section at a local store.  Given the price, my guess is someone mistook it for a 12″, and to be fair it kind of looks like one, including the jacket opening at the top instead of the right side.  And you know what?  It’s good.  It’s really good.  The musical sound is like an evolved version of new wave, sort of a  “free” new wave, much like free jazz, a poppy new wave sound that wanders around in a very loosely structured way.  Of course, we add to that Björk, with her oh so recognizable voice and vocal style that flows like water and won’t allow itself to be constrained by the music.  Thrown in a dash of Einar Örn weirdness, and you have a pop band that still sounds fresh today.  The only band I can compare them to is the B-52s, and I do hear a some similarities especially on “Vitamin.”

I’m glad I picked up Stick Around for Joy.  There’s some enjoyable, fun pop music here, and I can’t believe I wanted this long to check it out.  And since there’s still a little bit more space on my Icelandic vinyl shelf…