Robotiko Rejecto – “The Cyper Space” (1990)

There were four big boxes of awesome electro-ness at Easy Street Records when I stopped by the other day.  It looked like they bought a collection, because it’s not normally the kind of stuff I’d see at the shop.  There was so much stuff in there I’d never heard of before… I spent as much time searching artist names on my phone to try to get a sense of what they were about as I did actually flipping through the records themselves.  But in the end I came away with about a dozen selections, a combination of comps, albums, and 12″ singles, and so far everything we’ve played has been very cool.

robotiko

Robotiko Rejecto emerged from Frankfurt in the late 1980s comprised of producers Ra/Hen and Talla 2XLC (who is also at times credited as Ramona Ader and whose real name is Andreas Tomalla), and their first full length album, The Cyper Space, came out in 1990.  It was their only album together under that name and included tracks from their first three singles.  Ra/Hen later resurrected the moniker and released Corporate Power in 2012.

Stylistically The Cyper Space is EBM with a somewhat spacey and at times a bit dark.  It’s not industrial though there are elements that fit that mold, especially some of the brief pieces like the 40 second “Interpolation”.  When vocals are present they have a sort of sci-fi robotic flavor (“Moonbase 18”) about them.  What particularly struck me is the retro feel I got from these songs, a sensation driven by the fact that contemporary artists like TZMP and Mitch Murder have a similar vibe; I had to keep reminding myself that this is the original stuff.

Styrmir & the Medical Faculty – “What Am I Doing With My Life?” (2019)

styrmirmedicalThere are a wide range of words and terms that Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson uses to describe the project that is Styrmir & the Medical Faculty.  Stand-up comedy.  Hip hop.  An opera.  A criticism of the arrogance of Western medicine.  When you combine all those things there’s a lot to unpack.  And when you add the visual component of the full-sized booklet of drawings, one for each song, attached inside the gatefold of the vinyl version of What Am I Doing With My Life?, you’ve got a compelling package designed to take your brain out of its comfort zone and mix things up a bit.  There are references to Hitler and samurai swords and E=mc².  There are beats.  There are experimental tracks.  We’re dealing with a lot of stuff here.

The Medical Faculty are a large and diverse group.  There are a half dozen people who take on lead vocals across the album’s 14 track, and most of the folks contributing don’t appear to be involved with many other music projects, at least not as near as I can tell from looking at Discogs.  The two exceptions are Bergur Thomas Anderson, who is associated with Sudden Weather Change, Grísalappalísa, and Oyama, and of course the ubiquitous producer Curver, who has probably worked on more Icelandic albums that anyone who has ever lived.  Despite the broad range of contributors the whole thing holds together, all of it orbiting around the concepts and frequent vocals of Styrmir.

Recommended tracks include “The Liking Vortex” and “Most of the Cosmos is Compost”, a pair of stylistically disparate songs that provide a good general flavor of the album as a whole.  The former is a bit on the experimental side, while the latter is the most traditionally hip hop effort (with an honorable mention to “Göngutúr”) on the record.  You can check them out, as well as the rest of What Am I Doing With My Life?, on Bandcamp HERE, and you can purchase it on vinyl there as well.  My copy notes that it is from the first edition of 700 copies, and I presume that’s still the edition that is being sold

Hank & Tank – “Last Call For Hank & Tank” (2019)

hanktankHank & Tank are Henrik Björnsson (Hank) and Þorgeir Guðmundsson (Tank).  Þorgeir is a filmmaker, while Henrik is probably better known for his other band Singapore Sling.  It’s been a decade since the duo’s debut, 2009s Songs For The Birds, but fortunately for us Hank and Tank are back together again and putting out some great music.

Last Call For Hank & Tank opens with “Drive On”, a simple, dark, David Lynch-esque song that somehow takes some very basic playing and turns it into something rich, sonically dense, and mysterious, a brooding soundtrack to an early dusk drive in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to do except drive on.  The addition of the simmering Keren Ann’s vocals to “Same Old Song” only serves to make things even more sombre, the interplay between her and Henrik calling to mind a lost relationship, one that both parties know had to end but miss none the less.

Musically the compositions remain methodical and chewy like liquified caramel with elements of slow psych and surf, a structure that means even the slightest guitar flourish can radically change the mood for a moment.  The vocals take on a languid, almost Western style, their matter-of-factness even when singing about hitting rock bottom (“See The Stars”) creating a mood of resignation, as if the world could treat the singer in no other way.  “I Wanna” is the one time things burst forth, the faster pace and distorted vocals more reminiscent of Singapore Sling.

You can listen to Last Call For Hank & Tank on Bandcamp HERE, and it looks like they still have copies of the limited edition (of 200) vinyl available there as well.  Hopefully these two will be playing Iceland Airwaves this year… but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Ohio Players – “Honey” (1975)

ohioplayershoneyHoney is widely regarded as the best album by the Ohio Players, and it certainly had the chart success to back up that assertion.  The album itself made it to #2 on the Billboard 200 and the Players got a #1 single with “Love Rollercoaster”.  “Sweet Sticky Thing” also cracked the Top 40 in 1975, landing at #33, and that same year Honey was awarded a Grammy for Best Album Cover Art (the model is Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for October 1974, Ester Cordet… and if you think the cover is risqué you should see what’s inside the gatefold).  All of that would be reason enough for me to have picked up Honey this weekend.  But none of those reasons have anything whatsoever to do with my decision.  No.  I bought it for something that happened a year later, in 1976, specifically the third single from the album peaking at #30.  Because, you see, that single has a tie to Seattle.  A dozen years after it first charted it would be covered by a then obscure band that was part of a blossoming musical scene that would shortly explode out of the Pacific Northwest like a drop-D-tuned comet.  The band was Soundgarden.  The Ohio Players song was “Fopp”, and the band recorded two versions of it, including a dub mix, on their 1988 four-song 12″ also called Fopp.

I bought Fopp on vinyl right when it came out and played the hell out of it, especially the two versions of the title track on the A side.  At that time in my life I wasn’t buying 12″ singles, had no concept of a remix, and had yet to hear of Adrian Sherwood, so I had no idea what to make of “Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix)”.  “Fucked up” I understood, as well as “heavy”.  But “dub” meant nothing to me.  All I knew was that the way the original track was manipulated, plus the inclusion of samples from Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, blew my teenage mind.

The original version of “Fopp” is some serious funk.  While Soundgarden rocked it up quite a bit, it’s still recognizable both for the underlying groove and the horns.  Even the vocals are familiar sounding, Chris Cornell using his trademark voice and screams to capture the pitch changes on the original (which appears to have multiple vocalists).  The other thing that works well is the speed – the Ohio Players keep things heavy in a funky way, methodically pacing the low end, which was right in Soundgarden’s wheelhouse. (♠)

There’s an urban myth that the song “Love Rollercoaster” captures the scream of a woman being murdered, and one version of the myth indicates that woman was the cover model Ester Cordet.  In later years the band has denied that a murder was involved, attributing the sound to one of their own band members Billy Beck.  Which is, of course, exactly what you’d expect them to say regardless of the facts.  That being said, you can barely hear the alleged scream, so I have no idea what the fuss is about even though I do love me a good urban myth.

Honey is a solid album even without the Soundgarden connection, definitely worth a listen on its own merits.

(♠)  Holly completely disagrees with me on this.  Completely.  Don’t worry though, we’re still together.