I’m in the middle of somewhere. I’m in the middle of nowhere.
The somewhere is the United States, and as near as I can tell I’m probably about a 20-30 minute drive from the geographical center of the country, literally surrounded by America on all sides, as far as the eye can see (♥). I had happy hour chicken strips and fries for dinner. I’m driving a rental Jeep. Upon my arrival on Monday I was greeted by an intense display of lightning and an even more intense cluster of tornados. I am America’s Heartland incarnate.
Standing lonesome is underrated by some.
— “Your Fool”
The nowhere is a random hotel off the freeway. It’s a comfortable hotel as far as hotel rooms go, and this one even has a sitting area that is completely separate from the bedroom. It has a refrigerator and a microwave and a Keurig, two televisions and an orange couch that looks like someone picked it up off a sidewalk somewhere. I’m surrounded by walls and kept comfortable by air conditioning. The smiling people at the desk gave me some free bottled water and a drink coupon for the bar when I checked in. I’m literally in a building full of people. And I am nowhere, another anonymous business traveler just passing through, immediately to be forgotten.
Fufanu understands the somewhere and the nowhere.
I’ve been aware of Fufanu for a long time, probably back to our very first Iceland Airwaves in 2009, back when they were impossibly young and went by the more formal Captain Fufanu. We saw them live in that earlier, more poppy version, and later as part of a backing band for Ghositigital (♠), later again as the more mature Fufanu in a set played in a clothing store, and finally last year in the big room at Harpa. I feel like we’ve seen Fufanu grow up and come of age musically before our eyes. Holly has been a fan since the beginning, while I’ve watched their progression with more of an analytical interest, curious to see where they were headed.
In 2017 Fufanu arrived. In 2017 Fufanu released Sports.
Fufanu is from the middle of somewhere. Fufanu is from the middle of nowhere.
101 Reykjavik is somewhere, probably the densest population center in Iceland, a compact little downtown that bustles in its own way and is arguably the ground zero of the country on what are at times wild Friday and Saturday nights. Iceland as a whole is nowhere, a wind-swept series of volcanos surrounded on all sides by the unforgiving North Atlantic, no borders with any other countries. For much of its history, life in Iceland was hard. Legends indicated that the entrance to Hell could be found on the island. I don’t know about Hell. But I know that you can visit the canyon where two continental plates meet. And while they’re actually pulling apart, as you walk deeper down the path between it’s high walls you’d be more likely to believe they were closing in on you, to crush you, to make you quite literally disappear into nothing.
Sports is Fufanu’s final embrace dark post-punk. They’ve been orbiting it for years, sometimes approaching closely, other times using it’s gravity as a slingshot effect to send them off in a different direction. But in Sports it all comes together, the right blend of sound and vocals and darkness, taking a step deeper into the night than their other recent releases, the more psych-like Adjust to the Light and Few More Days to Go. They went all in, and it shows right out of the gate with the title track, all groovy beats and haunting vocals reminiscent of the best 1980s IDM, danceable to be sure, but also something you can just sort of sway to, getting lost inside your own world with the song bouncing around inside your head. The slow build-up… Chocolate brownie with the red sauce… is my favorite one…
While post-punk is Sports‘ foundation, there are other elements as well. “Tokyo” gives us a dash of dream pop, with Kaktus at times moving to a higher range to break the underlying tension and the synths taking on guitar-like qualities before the whole thing comes back down to earth again with some simple haunting surf-like chords. While “Sports” may be my favorite track on the album, “Tokyo” does the best job in taking you places, more like a short story than a song. The crown for most intriguing, however, goes to “Just Me”, which sounds very much like a homage to Fufanu’s fellow countrymen Skoffín and their 1996 single “Jellyfishes”.
I was quite surprised to find a vinyl copy of Sports over at Seattle’s Easy Street Records the other day (♣), and even though I have a copy on order from overseas, I couldn’t resist buying it. I think there are a few different versions – I believe one comes with a bonus 7″, which I’m hoping will be the case with my import when it arrives. But for now, sitting here in this hotel, the download on my iPod sounds just fine….
(♥) I’m writing this in Kansas. Literally Kansas. It’s not a metaphor.
(♠) Fufanu vocalist and frontman Kaktus Einarsson is the son if former Sugarcubes and current Ghostigital singer Einar Örn Benediktsson. Guitarist and long-time bandmate Guðlaugur Einarsson is unrelated despite the pair sharing the same last name, and has a killer side project called russian.girls that is worth checking out.
(♣) Maybe even more surprised when I took it to the counter and one of the clerks asked, “What is this?” The other, without missing a beat, said, “Oh, that’s Fufanu. They’re from Iceland.”