Sonic Deception – “Ghost Army” (2016)

Record stores like Amoeba Records are a dying breed. (♠)  The Hollywood location has so much vinyl that it’s ridiculous, with sections for certain sub-sub-sub genres that are as big as the entire vinyl sections in some shops.  Like the Experimental section I flipped through the other day… four rows wide of truly obscure stuff, and totally separate from the probably 50+ feet of electronica, not to mention all the subsections like house and acid.  It’s freaking nuts.

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And that’s where I found a record with a cool cover on the Radio Bongo imprint.  A record I think there’s a zero percent chance I’d have ever found in Seattle.

Radio Bongo is the label of President Bongo of Gusgus fame, and Sonic Deception is the project of Iceland’s Bjarki Jónsson.  As near as I can tell Ghost Army is Jónsson’s first album, and it just came out last month, so it’s a bit surprising to me that I didn’t hear about it on social media, but there it was, nestled away in an obscure section at Amoeba.  Who decided they needed to carry that particular title?  Did anyone roll their eyes when it came in, like “what is this crap and who is going to buy it?”  Turns out someone did.  In fact I bought not one not two but three Icelandic albums on that visit to Amoeba, and none of them were Björk, The Sugarcanes, nor Sigur Rós.

Sonic Deception is some pretty solid dark ambient, a bit moody and dark, but with a fairly crisp pace that could find a home in a club.  Can I describe it to you?  No.  All six songs are named after guns, though, and the cover image is some WWI/WWII era Finnish soldiers with skis, guns, and gas masks, all of which is very non-electronic-ish.  The vinyl is limited to 300 individually signed and numbered copies, and as far as I know it isn’t available on other formats at this time, though the vinyl comes with a CD copy of the album nestled inside, something I seem to see quite a bit with European imports these days.

I don’t see Sonic Deception/Bjarki on the Iceland Airwaves roster this year, but I’ll definitely be checking the off venue schedule to see if he has any sets scheduled, because if he does I’ll make a point in checking him out.

(♠)  Quite literally.  When I was in LA last week the TV news was running a story that the owner of Amoeba’s building won’t be renewing the store’s lease.  Instead it will be torn down in a couple of years and replaced by a 20+ story something-or-other.

Chronic Sick – “Cutest Band in Hardcore EP” (1983 / 2010)

chronicsickcutesthardcoreWhat better thing to listen to at the end of a rotten day than some early hardcore?  And you know, when the band screws with you by writing 33 1/3 rpm on the record when in fact it should be played at 45 rpm, it’s like icing on your turd cake.

This was another album that caught my eye due to the jacket, a 2010 re-release of the rare 1983 original.  Chronic Sick weren’t popular back in the day, which is kind of funny because songs like “Dress Code” were the pre-cursors to the pop-punk of bands like Green Day without a doubt.  Are the lyrics ridiculous?  Sure.  But the tunes are fast and tight as hell.  This might be the best punk album I’ve bought all year, like the Ramones on a two-day meth bender (you know, before it starts to get all weird and stuff).  With songs like “Mucho Macho” and “Public Suicide” how can you go wrong?  You’d better have thick skin if you read the lyrics though, or a dark sense of humor.  (♠)  This one will definitely get played again.

(♠)  Check and check.

The Rapture – “Mirror” (1999)

The Rapture are among the groups that brought the lo-fi and garage sound to the mainstream at the turn of the millennium.  Stylistically I’ve seen this referred to as “post-punk revival” and “garage revival,” though I think that sells them a bit short.  After all, garage never really goes away – there are always bands playing that style somewhere; it’s just a matter of whether or not that aesthetic happens to be popular at the time, with garage often serving as an “anti” to whatever musical trend is currently dominant.  It’s roots; it’s back-to-basics; it’s a big middle finger to the world.

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The Rapture’s 1999 album Mirror doesn’t seem to fit into these revivalists packages, at least not to my ears.  Yes, they bring a lo-fi, unpolished feel to their music, and yes it has certain general rock characteristics, but there’s a lot more happening here.  “Mirror” has a post-punk / noise / no wave quality to it, along with some very 1960s psych organs and an almost Dead Kennedys-esque vocal style, while the dark “AlieNation” puts a sparse keyboard on top of a slow reggae-ish riddim and tops it of with Ian Curtis-like vocals, so this pair certainly fits the original post-punk mode to some extent.  But those are followed by the piano instrumental of “Dusk at Maureen’s” and the straight-up dance beats that drive “In Love with the Underground,” a track that veers off into sort of IDM territory.

Mirror is stylistically a bit all over the place, with the general lo-fi-ness loosely holding it all together.  All in all I think they pulled it off, giving us a thoughtful album that certainly captured my attention enough to add them to my mental rolodex so I can keep my eyes open for other releases by the band.

Jasper TX – ” An Index of Failure” (2013)

jaspertxindexoffailureJasper TX is the nom-de-electronica of Swede Dag Rosenquist, one active for over a decade from 2005 until his final LP, 2013s An Index of Failure.  The album was the end of his run under that name, one he described on his blog by noting, “This collection of quite disparate leftovers was never intended to be sequenced this way or to function as a full-length album”, basically a collection of odds and ends.  But these are some pretty impressive also-rans, a strong collection of calming electronic tracks that came to the world in the period between the end of his marriage and the passing of his mother, a horrible cosmic one-two punch bound to stagger the strongest person.  Are the experiences of a failing marriage and an ill parent present in the music?  It’s impossible for the listener to truly know… though there are some strong emotional undercurrents on An Index of Failure, and I believe that artists’ works are always impacted by what is happening in their lives.

The vinyl version is a well crafted 180 gram gem on silver vinyl, and as near as I can tell it never came out on CD.  It is, however, available for streaming and purchase on his Bandcamp page HERE, so give it a listen if you’re interested.

Runemagick – “Dark Live Magick” (2011)

This morning felt like the end of summer.  We woke up and it was cold and gray and rainy outside, the start of a rainy weekend.  My sinuses were pounding, mostly from my allergies but also possible from Jack Daniels.  The first cup of coffee started to help and hopefully the second will work it’s magic. (♠)  So what to listen to on a morning like this?  Live doom/death metal, of course.

Sweden’s Runemagick started up in 1990 and were active until the late 2000s.  Their early material generally falls into the death metal genre, though over time the band added more doom aspects to their music, and that can clearly be felt on their 2001 live album, Dark Live Magick.  The quality of the recording is surprisingly good – in my limited experience with extreme metal live albums tend to sound pretty crappy, but you could easily mistake this for a studio album if it wasn’t for hearing the crowd at times.  The band plays a tight set, heavy and driving, with Nicklas Rudolfsson’s guttural growl providing vocals straight from the pits of hell.

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I dig this album way more than I thought I would.  The sound quality is excellent, the pacing good, and the songs have a great flow to them.  Runemagick don’t wallow around in their own excesses in ways I’m used to hearing from a lot of extreme metal these days, keeping their songs tight, structured, and internally consistent in a way that gives them a lot of power.  Dark Live Magick includes 10 live tracks plus a pair of bonus studio demos to close out side B, including the particularly kick-ass “Lord of the Grave”.  This one may be tricky to track down – I couldn’t find any of the songs from this album online (including on Runemagick’s Bandcamp page), and it was only released on vinyl and limited to 300 numbered copies.  It apparently included a poster insert, though my copy didn’t come with one.  Despite the obvious scarcity you can still find a copy here or there in the $15-30 price range, and frankly I think it’s worth every penny.

(♠)  It didn’t.