FM Belfast – “Island Broadcast” (2017)

It may seem weird to blog followers that I haven’t posted about FM Belfast’s most recent album yet.  The reason for this is that I wrote a review of it for the magazine Reykjavik On Stage, and the latest issue finally came out so now I feel OK about posting this on the blog.  If you haven’t checked out Reykjavik On Stage yet, you owe it to yourself to do so HERE – it’s the first English-only magazine devoted to the Icelandic music scene.  So without further ado…

 

fmbelfastisland

We stopped FM Belfast’s Reykjavik office in November to pick up a copy of the band’s newest album, Island Broadcast. Welcoming us was artist and band member Lóa Hlín Hjálmtýsdóttir, and during the course of our visit we asked what she thought about all the construction cranes visible outside her window and the changes to the downtown cityscape. She compared it to living in the movie Dark City, where every morning you wake up to find that things have been somehow changed overnight and noted, with a sigh, that she missed some of the buildings the same way she would an old friend. That underlying mood can be found throughout Island Broadcast, its beats and chords seemingly slowed down just a bit giving the whole thing a certain languid quality, like being lost in a dream. It would be easy for an album like this to become morose. But that’s not who FM Belfast are. In fact, if there’s one word I would use to describe Island Broadcast, that word is “hope”.

The message of hope is found throughout the lyrics of the album’s 11 songs. Right from the opening track “All My Power” we’re asked to help one another escape the lethargy we feel, “Would you mind / Helping me up / Helping me up / I’ve been in bed all day…”, setting the tone for what’s in store. And if that was too ambiguous for you, the second song “Follow Me” makes it crystal clear: “Don’t give them what they want / They’ll always ask for more / They can’t have you happy / They need your desperation.” But don’t worry my friends, because there is hope, right in the very next verse: “You’re no longer blind / You can follow me / I can open your eyes / You don’t have to be in the dark.”

The lyrics are only one part of the equation, though. You don’t become the world’s best party band without great music, and sonically Island Broadcast provides a level of diversity that is often lacking in electronic-based albums. Certainly the beats are great, but it’s the flourishes that give the songs individual character. Whether that’s the piano on “Up All Night”, the sampling on “Fearless Youth”, or the tropical vibe of the steel drums on “You’re So Pretty”, FM Belfast always find a way to make each song unique. When performed live they pick up the tempo, feeding off the energy of the crowd and transforming the songs from messages of hope to celebrations of it, creating that positive party atmosphere that is like a shot of pure dopamine to the brain.

FM Belfast has given us a gem in Island Broadcast, an album with an important and positive message that’s also a lot of fun to listen to. And what more can you really ask for from your music?

Malneirophrenia – “M-Theory” (2017)

malneirophreniaI was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of the 2017 Malneirophrenia remixes record M-Theory – only 35 copies of this lathe-cut 12″ were made, each individually numbered, so it’s not an easy one to track down.  The band has been around for a while, putting out their first release M back in 2011, but somehow I’ve completely missed them over the years – I’d never even heard of them until this arrived in the mail. They described their debut as “M is a mixture of metal, classical music and imaginary soundtracks. It is chamber punk.”  Chamber punk.  If if that doesn’t sound interesting, I don’t know what does.

My lack of familiarity with he originals means I have limited context for the remixes, with only what I know of the artists doing the remixes to go by.  Futuregrapher and Lord Pusswhip both make contributions, as does Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, who is best known for his work as part of Stilluppsteypa.  Pusswhip in particular gives me what I’ve come to expect from his royal highness, something languidly trippy.  Sigmarsson’s track, “I Am The Cello”, runs 19+ minutes and consumes the entire B side and is a bit of a surprise, lacking the experimentalism I’ve come to associate with his music (OK, maybe there’s a bit on the second half of the song).  The overall feel of the base tracks is classical, with the remixes primarily adding nuance, though Pusswhip makes sure to keep things a bit weird on his.

The three A side songs can be heard on Bandcamp HERE if you want to give them a listen.

Cucumb45 – “SlysóEP4 – Something Weirdcore” and “SlysóEP5 – Cyclops” (2017)

cucumb45weirdcoreCucumb45 is Bjarki Runar Sigurdarson, perhaps best known for his electronic work under his Bjarki moniker.  Last year he put out a pair of five-song EPs on his bbbbbb Records label, and fortunately for me they found their way into a box of assorted stuff I got in the mail a while back from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, because I’m really digging this trippy jams.

 

cucumb45cyclops

The beats are brisk, though a bit more metallic than deep.  Often their combined with other sonic elements such as the organ in “[Karate Latte Heep Mix4]” to create seemingly disconnected soundscapes that are successful at being more impressive when combined than just the sum of their individual parts.  Sometimes, however, it all comes together in a more familiar way, like on “Music For Advertising”, which has more overall cohesion and is more of a straight-ahead groover.  There’s also some flat-out weirdness, with tracks like “Cyclopsipoka” feeling more experimental or avant-garde than something you might hear at a club (or anywhere else for that matter).

You can listen to much of the bbbbbb catalogue on Soundcloud HERE, including both of these EPs in their entireties.

The Kills – “Live At Electric Lady Studios” (2018)

I was thinking to myself the other day, “You know, it’s kind of weird that I’m so into The Kills”.  And then I thought about it some more and recognized that, huh, Alison Mosshart is an insanely sultry stage-stalking vocal powerhouse and that Jamie Hince plays the filthiest, dirtiest blues guitar on the planet and I was like, “oh yeah, it’s because they’re amazing”.  Duh.

killselecticlady

If The Kills keep putting out stuff on Record Store Day, I’m going to keep buying it.  Last year it was the Echo Home Non-Electric 10″, and this year it was Live At Electric Lady Studios.  Next year it could be Alison and Jamie Do Burt Bacharach’s Greatest Hits and I can guarantee you I’d be in line early, hoping Easy Street has enough copies so I can get one.  TV Theme Songs With Jamie and Alison?  Sign me up.  I’d listen to those two doing Gregorian chants.  As Alison would say, “You’re a hard, hard, hard habit to break…”  If you’ve ever seen them live, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Live At Electric Lady Studios is a touch better than Live At Third Man Records, if for no other reason than The Kills’ new material is insanely good.  If I close my eyes while listening to it I can see Mosshart prowling across the stage wearing a leopard-print-something-or-other while Jamie oozes cool with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and grinding out some of the grimiest chords to ever come off a six-string.  Sure, that could be the half-empty glass of whiskey next to me talking (and let’s not talk about that wine we had with dinner…).  But it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  The Kills are the perfect symbiotic relationship between singer and guitarist, one that appears in the night sky like some kind of once-in-a-generational planetary alignment, but better because its sonic output has continued for 15 years.  Listen to “Doing It To Death” and tell me I’m wrong.  You may just get a punch in the face from me, so caveat emptor.

Record Shopping – Hiroshima, Japan Style

Holly and I took a day trip from Osaka to Hiroshima yesterday.  We only had about five hours in the city, so I only picked out one record store to visit – the shop/label/bar/curry restaurant known as Dumb Records.  Much like our recent challenges in finding Bootsy’s Records in Kyoto it took us a couple of back-and-forths across the street before we finally found a lobby mailbox with a Dumb Records business card on it.  It also turned out we were there a bit before opening time so we decided to wander around a bit.  Exiting the building we turned left and what did I see but…

Stereo Records
〒730-0029 Hiroshima Prefecture, Hiroshima, Naka Ward, Nakamachi, 2−2 末広ビル2階

stereorecordshiroshima

This turned out to be one of my favorite shops of the trip, and Holly agreed for a somewhat different reason – they had many of their second floor windows open, which made the space very comfortable inside.  I can’t tell you how many times on this trip we stepped into a record store and quickly had our energy levels sapped by the heat and humidity inside.  So given the nice breeze we were able to spend a little bit of time poking around.  Stereo Records is, like most Japanese record stores, relatively small, but everything is well organized and labelled. (♠)  I continued to focus on sections devoted specifically to Japanese artists and the first thing I pulled out for closer inspection turned out to have a quite unexpected connection to something I’m way into.  A look at the reverse of Audio Active’s 1997 12″ Robot War revealed that it was recorded at On-U Sound and produced by none other than Adrian Sherwood!  Big score here for me.  I also grabbed the 1984 artist comp Viva Lava Liva by Sandii & The Sunsetz, though unfortunately without the OBI.

If you can only make it to one shop in Hiroshima, you can’t go wrong with Stereo records.

Dumb Records
5-15 Mikawacho, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 730-0029

dumbrecordshiroshima

From there we headed back over to Dumb Records.  The space is tiny and primarily laid out for the bar/curry restaurant and lounge thing.  We tentatively planned on sticking around for a beer, but the folks already there were smoking and in a small space like that it’s just a bit too much for us non-smokers.  The music section is quite small and almost exclusively punk rock, and it probably won’t take you more than a couple of minutes to flip through everything.  The guy working there (not sure if he’s the owner…) pointed me towards his band’s record, the 2014 Piston Bop Nite!! by So-Cho Pistons which he described as Ramones-style punk, so I picked up a copy.  A good stop-off if you’re into punk rock.

 

And so ends our trip to South Korea and Japan.  I’ll be coming home with a nice bag full of vinyl by Japanese artists as well as a stack of CDs and even a cassette.  I highly recommend both countries as vacation destinations, with the added benefit that you can feed your vinyl habit a bit while you’re visiting.

(♠) Almost every single record I touched in Japan was in its own plastic sleeve, and most of these were the re-sealable kind.  Used records usually have a large paper tag at the time with the name of the artist and album, often the condition of the record, price, etc., which is pretty useful even for a non-Japanese speaker.