Discount – “Crash Diagnostic” (1999)

This is sort of Part II of my trip into Alison Mosshart’s past with the Florida band Discount.  The other day I wrote about their 1997 album Half Fiction, and today I’m listening to their follow up (and final) album, 1999’s Crash Diagnostic.

I mentioned in the previous post about how much Half Fiction surprised me – the Mosshart on that punk-pop album didn’t sound anything at all like the singer I know from The Kills and Dead Weather.  So I figured Crash Diagnostic would be in the same vein as Half Fiction.  And once again I was wrong.

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That’s not to say that Crash Diagnostic is some kind of massive departure – it’s not like Discount all of sudden put out a hip hop album or something.  But whereas Half Fiction had a clean, structured, and frankly a bit formulaic pop-punk sound, their next effort shows the band breaking loose of the structure they’d built for themselves.  Yes, the songs are still punk rock short – almost half the album’s 15 tracks are less than two minutes long, and Discount never cracks the four minute mark.  Yes, Mosshart’s singing voice sounds much more like the Mosshart of Half Fiction than the woman I first encountered with The Kills.  But there is a lot more variety here.  I don’t feel like I’ve got a whole bunch of songs all at the same speed and pace except for a few obligatory slower numbers; musically they broke out of their shell, varying speeds within songs and coming across like a more mature band.  Seeing this significant evolution from Half Fiction to Crash Diagnostic makes me wish Discount had had one more album in them so we could see where this progression would have taken them.

The opening track “Broken To Blue” is somewhat similar to Discount’s earlier work, but with the second song “Age Of Spitting” the band takes a 90 degree turn and never looks back.  Here is where we see Mosshart sounding more like her later self, but the band too is off into some different territory with breaks and shifts in the sound that didn’t exist on Half Fiction.  It’s a jarring change of pace and one of the best songs on the album.  “Harder To Tell,” with its subtle harmonizing, sounds so indie radio friendly it seems like it should have been a major college radio hit.  There are even two short instrumentals, both named after the length of the tracks – “(:38)” and “(1:04).”

Crash Diagnostic is a cool album.  It’s a bit more work than Half Fiction – if you like any of the songs on that album, you’ll probably enjoy the whole thing all the way through, while your feelings for the songs on Crash Diagnostic will probably vary widely.  But that’s a good thing, because there’s something here for almost everyone.

Discount – “Half Fiction” (1997)

I played Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards the other day.  I’m not sure why I picked that particular album that morning.  I’ve had it for a few years and probably only listened to it two or three times, but for some reason I felt like it would be good to revisit.  And it only took a couple of minutes for me to be reminded of something.

Alison Mosshart is amazing.

So much so that as soon as Sea of Cowards was done I switched immediately over to The Kills so I could hear more of her voice in all of it’s raspy, pissed off, angst-ridden punk rock glory.  The thing that gets me the most about Mosshart is while she’s a great rock singer with the perfect voice for the type of music she performs with The Kills and Dead Weather, she also has a beautiful voice – if you don’t believe me, go listen to “The Last Goodbye” on Blood Pressures.  I’m pretty sure she’d be a successful vocalist in almost any genre.

So with me in the throes of having a musical crush on Alison Mosshart I got online to see if I could find any of her earlier stuff with the Florida punk band Discount.  Their material was original put out on vinyl and cassette, and the records have been recently re-released, but I opted to go the cheaper route and picked up used CDs of Half Fiction (1997) and Crash Diagnostic (2000) online from Zia Records (neither is available on iTunes).  And thanks to the magic of the internet I had them less than a week later.

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I didn’t get what I expected from Half Fiction.  I thought I was going to get some raw, gritty punk, but what I got was more pop-punk.  And don’t think that’s an insult, because it’s not – there’s some solid pop-punk out there, and Half Fiction is a perfect example.  The songs are tight and fast, all coming in at under three minutes with a handful at less than two.  And Mosshart… her voice… not at all what I’ve been used to hearing from her.  She still has that sort of half talking/half singing quality, but her singing follows the cadence of the songs throughout the album, which to me came a a surprise since I’m used to her sounding like she’s actually fighting to break out from the music with The Kills.  This is a “cleaner” sounding Mosshart, more in the standard singer role.

Because the songs are so tight it can be a little harder for individual tracks to stand out.  Musically the pace remains brisk throughout and Mosshart generally sticks with the sort of hi-lo-hi-lo enunciation/cadence, and this can make some of the songs sort of blend together.  The first two tracks, “Half Fiction” and “Clap and Cough,” are the best representations of the general sound of Half Fiction, though I think “Keith” does the best job in breaking the mold with a bit of a guitar solo and Mosshart breaking free from her vocal rhythm, even adding in some of her own backing vocals.  “Toxic Home” is also solid, one of the few (maybe only, really) slower tracks, almost sounding like an acoustic number and giving Mosshart more of a chance to showcase her voice.

Half Fiction is pretty damn good, so if you’re a fan of bands like Green Day and Blink 182 I think you’ll like this a lot.  Even if you’re more just a straight forward pop fan I think it’s worth a listen if you can find a copy.

Þórir Georg – “It’s A Wonderful Life” (2013)

Who is Þórir Georg Jónsson?

I have to admit I was skeptical when I first saw the It’s A Wonderful Life CD.  I mean, it’s not exactly the most traditional packaging.  Sure, I bought the Slugs CD that came in a vacuum sealed pouch, the kind you’d normally associate with food preservation systems for sale on late night TV when you can’t seem to fall asleep because you’ve had too much to drink.  But this was something different.  A yellow paper envelope with hand-drawn art, and inside a hand-sewn book containing all the lyrics and a simple CD.  Ingvar at Lucky Records put a copy of this aside for me because it’s local (to Iceland), unique, and about as limited as you can get – my copy is #8 of 40.  Ingvar is all about supporting the local little guy who makes the effort to put out something personal, so I tend to rely on his advice.  And he never steers me wrong.

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The flyer inside It’s A Wonderful Life describes it as “Icelandic-lo-fi-psych-pop-punk,” which is a surprisingly good description.  Maybe not much on the pop side, perhaps more folkish IMO, but we’ve got plenty of lo-fi and psych, along with a heavy dose of DIY punk ethic.  This is about as DIY as it gets – the songs are all just Þórir and his guitar, with some echoey vocals that sound like they were recorded by a man singing into a something metallic in someplace like a big, old, abandoned prison.  And the desperation… the desperation in his voice… you can’t ignore this music; it won’t fade into the background; there’s too much feeling here.  Is it pain, or sadness, or resignation?

Darkness came and stayed.
It kept me focusing on my vices.

A man can only take so much.
Such weak and weary ways.
Too stubborn to make compromises,
and then dwell on one’s mistakes.
It makes you feel so powerless
when you’re on the brink.
— Þórir Georg

Þórir Georg is the Icelandic lo-fi Nick Drake.

The songs are all in English, and as mentioned previously there is a full lyric booklet included with the CD.  But you don’t really need it, because Þórir sings very clearly – you won’t have any trouble following the words, and his haunting singing forces you to listen, calling you in like a spirit in a dark foggy night.  I’m not sure if the songs have names… because they aren’t named anywhere in the package, and the CD doesn’t generate any track titles when I play it.  But it doesn’t matter.  This isn’t an album in the way we’re used to thinking of one.  It’s a man exposing himself to you in a very intimate way, alone with his guitar.  It needs to come in this envelope that conceals it from view.  You need to make a special effort to look inside.  It’s personal.  And that is it’s beauty.

The songs come from a dark and lonely place.  It’s not feel-good music.  It’s real.  They seem to come from a place not of wallowing in being alone, but embracing and accepting it.  Is it desperate, or just desolate?  Can you find a certain happiness and comfort in the moodiness?  Þórir seems to vacillate between the extremes.  I don’t think we’re supposed to find an answer here.  It’s just not that simple.

I took a look at Þórir Georg’s website… hell, I even found him on Facebook and thought about emailing him to get some comments from him for this post.  But I’ll be honest.  I didn’t do that because I kind of relished not knowing, at least not while I was writing this.  There’s a mystery here.  Would it be spoiled if I exchanged emails with the artist?  Maybe I’ll find out at some point.  But not now.  For now I want to sit back with a cocktail and listen… experience It’s A Wonderful Life… absorb it.  So good….

Nögl – “I Proudly Present” (2009)

Nögl was the first Icelandic band I thought was cool.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from our first Iceland Airwaves in 2009, but the one thing I knew for certain was that I’d never heard of a single band playing there.  Our first night we went to NASA and caught six bands, and while I thought Reykjavik! were cool, I remember feeling pretty far out of my musical comfort zone.  The following night was one I’d circled on the schedule, a rock/metal lineup at Grand Rokk (aka Faktory), and Nögl opened that night in front of an almost empty room – maybe 20 people were there.  But that didn’t stop them.  The boys played a hard and intense set, and once they figured out that most of us were foreigners switched to English for their stage banter.  They were also the first band I ever got into contact with, corresponding by email and eventually sending them some large format prints of photos I took of their set, and in return they sent me back a signed photo and CD.  Pretty cool.

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I came across I Proudly Present on my iPod today and played it for old time sake, and quickly remembered how much I liked it.  It’s a solid alt/hard rock album.  Not terribly flashy, but has good harmonies, aggressive guitars, and even the odd growl here and there.  “My World” is my favorite track by far and I have to confess that I have an illogical affinity for the line “I can be your baseball bat in a fight.”  All but one of the songs are in English, making this a very approachable album for the American rock fan, and there’s a lot to like here.  The songs are a bit on the downer side covering issues like sobriety (“Sober & Clean/Better Way”), loneliness (“Cigarette Smoke”), and wasting time (“Wasting Time”).  The most unique track is “Eyes,” with its quasi-screamed vocal parts and mixed up timing, making it the most metal sounding song on the album.

We saw Nögl again a few years later in Reykjavik at a bar called Amsterdam, and while the show was good it didn’t hit me the same way as their earlier one did.  The band broke up relatively soon after, and I Proudly Present stands as their one release (as far as I know).  It’ll always hold an important place in my personal musical history, and if you’re a rock fan I think there’s a lot here you’ll enjoy.

Frostbite – “The Second Coming” (1993)

This is the last stop on my jaunt through the ancillary works of one Einar Örn.  I went on a bit of an Einar Örn kick, and with eBay only a click away and a new PayPal account, it didn’t take me long to buy all kinds of stuff.  I found H3ÖH’s The Hafler Trio Bootleg and Grindverk’s Gesundheit Von K on vinyl, and Frostbite’s The Second Coming on CD (I didn’t realize until just now when doing some research for this post that it had been released on vinyl… dammit!).

All three of these projects saw Einar Örn working with fellow Icelander Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, and The Second Coming actually provided the source material for the two remixes that comprise The Hafler Trio Bootleg.  See how it all fits together?  That’s one thing about the Icelandic music scene – it’s pretty damn small, and with most of the country living in and around Reykjavik, most of the musicians are in close proximity to one another, which makes it easy to work together.

Released in 1993, The Second Coming is an intriguing piece of electronica… I’d probably describe it as new age electronic, though Holly votes for sci-fi electronic.  But it’s not purely music and sound – Einar’s funky lyrics and vocals weave in and out of the songs.

It happened one night
Not long ago

That miss happy
went out to make
everybody happy.
Well, it was her profession.
It was a big job too.
But a drink too many
made her inevitably dead drunk.
Now miss happy was only sorrow.
— “Sorrow”

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Katie Jane Garside contributes female vocals to three of the tracks, including my favorite “Loose My Mind,” which is perhaps coincidentally one of the two songs remixed on The Hafler Trio Bootleg.  She actually sounds a lot like a young Björk and provides a good counter to Einar’s half singing/half rap.

“Only The Light” is the weirdest song on the album, one I can’t really figure out if I like or not.  It has those signature horn sounds that seem to appear in so many of Einar’s projects, but this isn’t a “song.”  This is a handful of instruments playing… but they aren’t playing the same thing at all.  And on top of it all are some gothic sounding Einar vocals, making this sound more like some kind of religious rite on acid.  Or something from Spinal Tap.  I’m not sure which.

I hear seeds of future Einar works here.  Songs like “Depressed” and “Loose My Mind” remind me more than a little bit of Ghostigital, though Einar’s later projects moved into a much harder, aggressive, industrial realm.  There’s a lot to like here, though it is maybe a bit “softer” than I was hoping for – I like my Einar angry and confused and a bit crazy, and while that’s here lyrically I would have liked a bit of a heavier sound and in-your-face vocals.  Other than “Only The Light,” however, it’s still a solid album to listen to all the way through, and it’s pretty readily available on eBay so check it out.