The Best of 2020

Like almost everyone else on the planet, I’m glad to see the end of 2020 rapidly approaching. All things considered I certainly can’t complain – we’ve stayed healthy and safe and are both still working. Sure, it’s been stressful. We’re getting a little stir crazy since we’ve both been working from home since March, and we had a number of events and trips cancelled, but with a COVID vaccine coming out maybe, just maybe, we can get back to some semblance of normal in 2021.

If you follow the blog at all, I’m sure you noticed a lot less activity in 2020. I’d have thought lockdown would have made me more prolific, but after something like seven years I sort of lost focus a bit – I just wasn’t sure I had much interesting left to say. I also started playing Dungeons & Dragons again (via Zoom), and that resulted in an entirely new blog that is basically a novelization of our weekly game. It’s called Defenders of Phandalin, so check it out if you’re interested in RPGs or just fantasy-style fiction.

So here’s to hoping your 2020 was safe and as sane as could be, and that maybe I’ll run into you at a record store or concert somewhere in the world in 2021.

Top 5 New Releases In 2020

1. The Ghost Choir – The Ghost Choir (Iceland)
2. Farmacia – Farmacia (Argentina)
3. The Rise of India (Deluxe Edition) – IndiaBoy & Pési-B (Iceland)
4. So When You Gonna… – Dream Wife (UK / Iceland)
5. Neyslutrans – Hatari (Iceland)

Most years selecting my favorite release of the year isn’t hard. Sorting out the rest of the Top 5 can be a bit tricky, but generally there’s one album that hits my like a lightning bolt and rockets right to the top of the list.

That didn’t happen this year. In fact, I didn’t decide on the order of the first three spots until I sat down on Christmas morning and listened to the three albums one more time, and even then it was still tough. What it came down to, ultimately, was this – not only have I played The Ghost Choir a ton, but it’s also the album I recommended to people the most often, and all those folks told me they liked it. Stylistically it reaches across categories – electronic, classical, jazz, soundtracks… there’s something there for almost everyone. It truly is an outstanding record.

Farmacia dropped on December 23, so I have only had a few days with it, but man is it killer. As always, brothers Ariel and Diego Sima stretch the boundaries and expand my mind with their electro compositions. Had this been around for a few months would it have taken the top spot? We’ll never know. My understanding is that this will be coming out in a limited vinyl release soon, so be on the lookout for that, and I’ll likely do a blog about it soon. The Rise of India was probably my biggest surprise Top 5 entrant being that I’d never heard of anyone involved in the album prior to playing it for the first time. It’s a ton of trap fun.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Disciplinatha
2. King Ani Mal
3. Captain Syrup
4. Latimore
5. Idris Elba

This is a bit of a mix of old school and more contemporary stuff, and it covers a wide range of genres. I feel like i didn’t listen to as much new-to-me stuff in 2020, or at least not as albums. Working from home certainly allowed me to listen to more music than ever before, but much if not most of the time I found myself playing Spotify playlists, in which case I knew almost all the music (80s metal and pop) or I didn’t know any of it (Techno Bunker). I guess the difference between 2019 and 2020 was that I was less intentional about what I played. Plus not traveling meant not exploring new record stores, and new scenes which was a major bummer. All that being said, the above are all excellent and recommended.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

1. Collection of funk/soul/jazz
2. Live at Red Rocks – Devil Makes Three
3. First Demo 12/29/80 – S.O.A. (signed by Henry Rollins)
4. Music for the Other People Place Part 1 box set
5. Is Anybody Listening? – Cell7

I was lucky enough to be gifted four huge moving boxes of 1960s to 1980s soul, funk, and R&B from a friend’s dad. There was some great stuff in here – James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Brass Construction, etc. Probably 75% of it is still in the garage, but the others were cleaned, played and moved inside. Live at Red Rocks was a fun pick-up since we were at the show a few years back. The S.O.A. demo was something I totally lucked into – Rollins posted about these on his Facebook page and on a whim I just ordered one right then and there. It tuns out they sold out in minutes, so for once an impulse buy paid off. The Music for the Other People Place box set was an interesting project in which electronic artists were given free rein… and we as the purchasers are not told who contributed albums to the collection. The Cell7 record was one I supported via crowd-funding, and not only is the album super cool, so is the amazing poster, which i framed.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Yeah, we didn’t see any live shows in 2020. Because COVID and all that. Which is too bad, because we had tickets to see KMFDM and Ministry, and also had our early bird passes for Iceland Airwaves. Here’s hoping 2021 doesn’t suck as hard.

Top 5 Most Played Songs On Spotify

1. “Balls To The Wall” – Accept
2. “Beepers” – Sir Mix-A-Lot
3. “World Eater” – Bolt Thrower
4. “Speed of Light” – Alex Stein
5. “Realm of Chaos” – Bolt Thrower

We decided to get a Spotify subscription early in the year. Rest assured, I’m still addicted to physical formats and will buy them whenever possible. But there’s a lot of new stuff I’d like to just check out, plus it dawned on me that there are still a lot of classic albums that I’ve never heard in their entirety. I think it was the Music Exists podcast that got me thinking about this when Chuck Klosterman and Chris Ryan were talking about Exile On Main St. and I realized I’d never listened to it.

My list is interesting. I mean, a metal song from 1983 tops it, and perhaps even stranger, I’ve never owned an Accept album in my life. Go figure. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Seattle’s own Sir Mix-A-Lot made the list, though the fact that the track is “Beepers” and not something from Swass is interesting. That being said, “Beepers” was often requested by Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane during backyard evening listening sessions, so it made it to the Top 5. Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos is exactly the kind of reason I got Spotify, and I played the hell out of it for a few months (still looking for a reasonably priced copy on vinyl with the original cover, though). As for Alex Stein’s “Speed of Light”… I was shocked when I saw this because I have no idea who Alex Stein is. I think this track is on the Techno Bunker playlist, which would explain it because we play that one a lot.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

1. Bandcamp
2. Discogs
3. Karolina Fund
4. Direct from Artists
5. Lucky Records – Reykjavik

We didn’t get to do any travel in 2020, which sucked. We did make some visits to local area shops and have tried to do our part to help them survive all these lock-downs. But 2020 was really the year of mail order music. Bandcamp served up a number of days where all the money went to the artists, and I certainly spent a lot of time there. I also ordered a decent amount from Discogs, particularly from two sellers (who shall remain my little secret) who have some great stuff at reasonable prices and do an amazing job with their packaging and shipping. Karolina Fund is a project-funding site from Iceland, and a lot of Icelandic musicians have used it to do vinyl versions of their releases. I’ve had great success contributing to projects on the site. I also bought stuff direct from artists through their Facebook or Instagram pages. And of course I did three (or was it four?) mail order boxes from my favorite shop in the world, Reykjavik’s Lucky Records. I was bummed I couldn’t shop there in person in November, but if all goes well we’ll be there in 2021.

Top 5 Music Books

1. Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by Tim Mohr
2. Sing Backwards and Weep by Mark Lanegan
3. Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 2 by Henry Rollins
4. Rusted Metal: A Guide To Heavy Metal And Hard Rock Music In The Pacific Northwest (1970 – 1995) by James R. Beach, Brian L. Naron, James D. Sutton, and James Tolin
5. Total F*cking Godhead by Corbin Reiff

I think I read seven or eight music books this year, and Burning Down the Haus was the clear winner, a well-written and well-researched history of the punk movement in East Germany. Highly recommended. I also particularly enjoyed vinyl-nerding-out alongside Henry Rollins with Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 2.

So there you have it kids, 2020 in a nutshell. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you in 2021!

Hatari – “Neyslutrans” (2020)

Man, less than three weeks into the year and I’m already writing about a 2020 release for the first time, and from one of my favorite bands no less.  With new releases by HAM and Gusgus on the horizon, 2020 is already shaping up to be pretty awesome.

Before we get into Neyslutrans I wanted to do some musing on Hatari and people’s perceptions of the band.  They’ve got 23K+ followers on Facebook and over 80K on Instagram, they’ve won some awards, and they were selected to represent Iceland in Eurovision last year.  Sounds great, right?  Well, they’ve also pissed some people off.

The pissed-off-ness seems to mostly follow two paths.  The most obvious is their vocal support of Palestine in the weeks and months leading up to the Eurovision finals, which certainly didn’t go over well with most people in the host country of Israel, though it was supported from plenty of other directions.  This culminated with Hatari recording a song and doing a video with Palestinian artist Bashar Murad (“Klefi”, which is included on Neyslutrans) and holding up small Palestine banners following their finals performance, resulting in much pontificating and rhetoric and petty retribution, such as employees of El Al separating the band members on their flight out of Israel and putting all three in middle seats in the middle row.  Which is kind of petty and stupid, but at the end of the day is only annoying and inconvenient.  Now, I’m not taking sides here – this isn’t a political blog, and I’m just summarizing what happened.  Some people thought Hatari’s support for Palestinian independence was a good thing.  Others did not.  And others still took third path of pointing out that political statements aren’t supposed to be part of the contest, so just play your music and shut up already.  At the end of the day, I enjoyed their performance, and I’ll leave it at that.

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There are also criticisms leveled at Hatari for what is perceived as their appropriation of various subcultures and for not practicing what they preach in terms of being anti-establishment and anti-consumerism.  Maybe these are really two separate issues, but I tend to hear them lumped together, so that’s how I’ve been thinking about them.  Hatari describe themselves in various ways – anti-capitalists, performance artists, an anarcho-syndicalist commune.  Their holding company is called Relentless Scam Incorporated.  Their merch is sold under the heading Consumer Products.  And yes, this anti-capitalist anarcho-syndicalist commune sells merch, both recorded music and clothing.  The media had used all kinds of words to describe their style – industrial, goth, dance, and my personal favorite the completely misguided “steampunk”.  So what are Hatari?

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Well, the appropriation criticisms are evident in both the visual and sonic aspects of their aesthetic.  Clearly their stage outfits draw from BDSM and some aspects of LGBTQ culture, blending it with fascist chic, cyberpunk, and small doses of pure absurdity – the first time we saw them live the two dancers on stage, dressed in black spiked outfits, were wearing straight-up tourist-style fanny packs from which they produced lollypops that they threw into the crowd.  The entire thing is brought together into a very intentional and choreographed stage show – Hatari put a lot of effort into establishing personas and an artistic image that they want to impose onto the audience.  Sonically they certainly draw from what were the extreme fringes of 80s and 90s industrial and electronic music, bands like Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly, adding some modern polish and taking something that was at one time frightening and intimidating and turning it into something, well… a Consumer Product, in a way.  Now, musicians have been doing this since, well, since at least Elvis.  Does this excuse it?  I mean, I don’t know if it needs an excuse or not.  More than a few things that are now quasi mainstream started as fringe subcultures.  I can understand why it rubs people the wrong way, especially if and when people who aren’t actually part of the subculture co-opt elements of it for their own benefit, which can certainly feel exploitive.  Especially when entertainment is created from it, entertainment that is marketed to the masses.

In the song “Ódýr” off the EP Neysluvara the singer asks, “Why did I sell myself so cheap?” (♠)  It’s a valid question.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think they shouldn’t make more money for what they do, though in this context “cheap” doesn’t just mean money – it means everything.  This… this is what I work for, what I give my limited time and energy for?  Just this?  This society that is teetering on the edge?  This life?  All this… stuff?  It’s a feeling I think most people can relate to at one time or another in their lives.  Some societies have attempted to form in ways that value the work of the individual, though people being people there’s always someone or some cabal that goes and ruins it for everyone.  Someone always craves more.  More stuff.  More power.  More, more, more.  And then, usually after some bloodshed, another path is chosen.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  What’s the answer?  Is it railing against capitalism?  Is this the crux of Hatari’s message, this expression of modern day anomie?

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I have no idea what truth, if any, drives Hatari.  I don’t know these guys, and from what I’ve seen and read they stay more or less “in character” during interviews.  Are they truly anti-system and anti-capitalist and just selling merch as a way to fund their message, as they claim?  Or are they simply performance artists, characters in a play of their own creation, one that evolves over time?  And if so, what is their ultimate message?  Remember, their company is Relentless Scam Incorporated.  My perception is that there’s nothing nefarious in their motives, nothing calculatedly exploitive, but that could just be because I like their music and shows so much and I don’t want to think about the other stuff.  Maybe I don’t care either way.  Maybe I’ve sold myself to cheap.

I will freely admit that I am a big fan of Hatari’s music and I’ve enjoyed both the live shows I’ve seen.  Neysluvara was the #1 pick on my Top 5 Albums list in 2017, and I stand by that.  And when I learned just two days ago that a new album was coming out, I immediately hit up their website and bought two copies, one on vinyl and one on CD, and since I didn’t want to wait for those to arrive next month before hearing it, I bought the download too.  So much for anti-capitalism.  Long live Consumer Products.

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Neyslutrans (which translates to Consumption Trance) is a 13-song journey, one featuring a supporting cast that includes the previously mentioned Bashar Murad as well as CYBER, GDRN, Svarti Laxness, and even violinist Pétur Björnsson.  While opening tracks “Engin Miskunn” and “Spillingardans” can be heard as continuations of the band’s debut EP Neysluvara, Neyslutrans also sees Hatari break new ground.  Klemens’ higher-ranged vocals get more space, taking an edge off the harshness of Matthías’ raspy, accusatory pronouncements, and their collaborations offer an opportunity to blend styles.  “Klefi / Samed” balances Hatari’s harshness with the Murad’s more pop approach, incorporating his clean and dreamy vocals in sharp contrast to the ragged edge of Matthías’ delivery, while the female hip hop trio CYBER team up with the guys to create the dance-floor-ready “Hlauptu”.  The most jarring track is actually the quietist, the classical, violin-only interlude that is “Spectavisti Me Mori, Op. 8” that acts almost as an intermission, or at the very least an aperitif to cleanse your palette before you embark on the album’s final five songs, blending seamless into the harshness that is “14 Ár”.

The conciseness of the four-song Neysluvara ensured it was a gut punch from start to finish, like being stabbed to death with a razor sharp exclamation point by a bondage-gear-clad version of The Joker.  Neyslutrans doesn’t offer that same type of consistent, defining experience.  If Neysluvara is the star that went supernova, Neyslutrans is the gas cloud that formed around it, a cloud that still surrounds that impossibly dense and dark core while reflecting light and creating an impressive, varied, and expansive display.  Which is a good thing, because if Hatari had simply given us another 13 songs in the vein of their debut the result would have been an album hard to get through in one sitting – it would have just been too much.

Neyslutrans is an enjoyable listen, start to finish, and I suspect it’s going to be on heavy rotation in the Life in the Vinyl Lane household for months to come.  The download is available in all the normal places, as well as on Bandcamp HERE, while CD and vinyl can be purchased from Consumer Products HERE with a scheduled ship date of February 4.  I don’t know how limited these will be – they should be more accessible than the physical copies of their debut.

 

(♠)  There’s a great page HERE that breaks down and translates the lyrics of this song (and others), and in particular this line.  The more literal translation would be something to the effect of “Why didn’t I sell myself for more”, which does have a bit of a different connotation.  Whereas “so cheap” implies that I basically gave away my time and myself as a choice, accepting little in return with a shrug of my shoulders, the more literal reading is about knowing I’m selling myself because I don’t have a choice… and since I don’t have a choice, I may as well get as much as I can in return.  

The Best of 2019

recordgraffitiAnd here we are, another year rapidly approaching the finish line, a half dozen days left before we close the book on the second decade of the 2000s, the 2020s anxiously awaiting their turn.  Will it be another Roaring 20s like the one that happened a decade ago?  I don’t know.  All I do know is that the older I get, the faster time seems to pass, slipping almost unnoticed until a season change makes you realize another three months slipped away, until another New Year’s moves another bead to the wrong side of the ledger.

All in all 2019 was a pretty great year in music, at least from my perspective.  We got some travel in and saw shows in four different countries.  We discovered some new favorite artists.  We made some new friends through music, and strengthened our bonds with old ones.  And I bought a lot of music.  A LOT of music.  Records, tapes, CDs, downloads… in the era of free and streaming, I’m still a bit of a luddite in preferring the physical, the tangible.

So, without further ado, here it is – the 8th annual Life in the Vinyl Lane “Best Of” post!

Top 5 New Releases in 2019

  1. I Don’t Know How To Be Happy – Deli Girls (US)
  2. Return – Foreign Monkeys (Iceland)
  3. Shlon – Omar Souleyman (Syria)
  4. OHMelectronic – OHMelectronic (Canada)
  5. Blizzard People Compilation (Iceland)

By my count I posted about 51 different 2019 releases this year, excluding re-releases.  There were also handful of things from this year I heard but didn’t write about for various reasons, including laziness.  While I posted about a few more new releases in 2018, I feel like overall my consumption of new music was about the same as last year.

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My favorite release for 2019 is Deli Girls’ I Don’t Know How To Be Happy.  This is perhaps an unusual selection for Life in the Vinyl Lane not because of the genre, which is in fact difficult to define, but instead because it never came out, to the best of my knowledge, on any kind of physical medium.  Nope.  This one was digital only.  And I’ve played the hell out of it.  A blend of techno, experimental electronica, power electronics, and punk, I Don’t Know How To Be Happy is one of the rawest things I’ve heard in a long time, like a hot spot on your arm that you can’t stop scratching even though you know you should.  The music grates on your sanity to create an emotional edginess before the vocals come in and pummel you into paste.  I couldn’t get enough of “Officer” and “I’d Rather Die” on my iPod, though that might say as much about my daily commute as it does about anything else.

Next up was the triumphant return of Iceland’s Foreign Monkeys after a decade-long hiatus, the appropriately named Return.  We loved their debut , and the follow-up put more emphasis on the garage rock side of their sound, stripping things down to the core elements.  For years we regretted that we’d never caught them at our first few Airwaves festivals, but this year we got the chance and jumped at it – and the album captured their live set well.  Omar Souleyman tried to sneak one past me late in the year, but I caught wind of Shlon in time to pre-order the vinyl (which comes out in January) and get the digital download.  I’m considering this part of 2019 since the download is available now.  Shlon definitely sounds like a Souleyman album, but it also shows more range than some of his previous works with some slower and more sonically emotional moments.  You can never go wrong with Omar Souleyman.

The Top 5 rounds out with some great EBM/industrial from Canada’s OHMelectronic and a comp out of Iceland called Blizzard People.  I debated on whether or not to include Blizzard People, since putting a comp on a list like this seems a bit lazy.  But here’s the thing, or more precisely things.  These six tracks are all relatively new.  And I’m certain I played this album more than any other in 2019.  Every song is a burner, and Logitech’s “Leather Forecast” is the best jam I heard all year.  Plus it’s my blog so I can do what I want, so there.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Deli Girls
  2. OHMelectronic
  3. Blóðmör
  4. Hula
  5. Hvörf

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I already mentioned the first two artists in my Top 5 New Releases list, so let’s start with Blóðmör.  I’ve been in contact with the band’s guitarist/vocalist Haukur for a number of years – we connected online due to our mutual love of the bands HAM and DIMMA.  What I didn’t know until this year, though, is that Haukur had his own metal band, and they had a huge 2019, releasing both a demo and the six-song Líkþorn.  Plus, you know, they won Iceland’s annual battle of the bands.  Pretty killer year.  We got to meet Haukur after the Blóðmör show at Gaukurinn during Airwaves, and he couldn’t have been nicer.  I’ll be keeping my eyes on these guys in the future.

Hula is a sort of industrial dub band I discovered in the used section of Seattle’s Jive Time Records and over the course of the year I picked up a half dozen of their records, each one of them all-killer-no-filler.  There are still some titles I don’t have and I’ll definitely pick them up as I come across them.  Last but not least is Hvörf, a new collaboration between two tremendous Icelandic musicians, Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason and Þórir Georg.  Their debut, Music Library 01, is an impressive collection of eight tracks in two distinct styles, a more classical-based mood-setter and one that’s a bit more spacey with dialogue sampling.  It was an unexpected surprise at the end of the year, and a welcome one.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

  1. Þagað Í Hel – Þeyr
  2. Soðin – Blóðmör
  3. Nælur Compilation
  4. Artoffact Records Sale
  5. Three Boxes of Free Stuff

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It’s a bit odd that of the top three purchases on this list, only one was vinyl.  But oh, what a huge one!  While I still try to resist describing myself as a “collector”, I do have a handful of items on my “want” list that are probably there as much due to their rarity as they are for the music.  And at the number one position for probably the last five years has been Þeyr’s 1980 debut Þagað Í Hel.  As part of the first wave of Icelandic punk most of their stuff is hard to find, having been pressed in small quantities and rarely exported.  But Þagað Í Hel takes it to a different level, as I’ve been told that much of the print run was returned due to pressing flaws (and my copy has one of these on the B side) and the masters were destroyed so the songs themselves exist only on this vinyl release.  I had an alert set on Discogs for it, and the second a copy showed up for sale from Sweden I bought it, no questions asked.  That process seemed a bit anti-climactic, but I’m still glad to have the record.

Blóðmör’s super-limited live demo tape Soðin and the Nælur compilation CD both came to me via a good friend of mine in Iceland who always hooks me up with amazing stuff, and these two have been getting a lot of play since our return from Reykjavik.  The Artoffact label online sale resulted in a huge box of vinyl and CDs arriving on our doorstep, turning me onto a bunch of new-to-me bands like OHMelectronic, Individual Totem, and Images in Vogue, as well as giving me my first exposure to Die Krupps.  The last spot on the list is held down by three massive and heavy boxes of 1960s and 70s rock I got for free from someone at work.  A lot of it was stuff I’m not interested in, and quite a few of the jackets were water damaged and moldy, but I still pulled some gems out out there, and even though I had to throw out the jackets of the firs six Sabbath albums, the records inside were pristine, so I can’t complain.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. A-Ha – Royal Albert Hall, London
  2. Fufanu – Urban Spree, Berlin
  3. Hatari – Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik
  4. Hermigerville – Lucky Records, Reykjavik
  5. Foreign Monkeys – Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar, Reykjavik

We weren’t able to attend Iceland Airwaves in 2018, an absence that broke our nine year run of consecutive visits.  And in reflecting on it I realized what I missed the most was not, believe it or not, the music, though that was still a gaping hole in my November.  No, what I missed the most was seeing all the people who have become our friends over the course of a decade’s worth of Airwaves.  We have an entire crew’s wroth of friends who live in Reykjavik – Ingvar, Mumbi, Gestur, Jóhannes, Einar, Bob, Reynir, Leana, the hilarious shit-talking guy who runs the restaurant Shalimar… plus all our friends who travel in from points all over the globe – Tristen and Andy (US), Matt and Tanya (Canada), the KEXP crew (especially Kevin and Jim), Paul (Scotland)… it takes a village.  And this year we extended our Airwaves family even further, spending time with Rob and Olie and Oscar and Sarah… that’s what makes Airwaves so special.

Anyway, now that I’ve waxed poetic about that, the best show was, hands down, A-Ha at Royal Albert Hall (below).  When I told people we were going to that show I was surprised by how many people my age did not remember A-Ha at all, and those who did generally only knew them for “Take On Me”.  I forget how much of a nerd I am sometimes, as well as how big of an A-Ha fan Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane is.  So we made a special effort to see this show, and it was worth it.  The first set saw the band playing the entire Hunting High and Low album in order, and after a break they then went into a second set of their other material.  The venue was amazing, the sound perfect, and the video work tremendous.

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Fufanu playing in Berlin while we were there was an unexpected surprise, one we made sure to take advantage of.  Seeing them in a small venue like this was great and they were on top of their game.  The other three shows on the list were all from Airwaves, and two of them were off-venue.  Hermigerville’s set at Lucky Records was, unquestionably, the most fun I had at Airwaves this year; his joy in playing the music is infectious and the crowd was happy to come along for the ride.  The Foreign Monkeys set was in a hotel and there were only a few dozen of us there, but the guys tore it up and even some friends who tend to be a bit more ambivalent about rock clearly enjoyed their energy.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America

  1. Easy Street Records, Seattle
  2. Reckless Records, Chicago
  3. Daybreak Records, Seattle
  4. Ranch Records, Bend (OR)
  5. Silver Platters, Seattle

The Rest of the World

  1. Lucky Records, Reykjavik
  2. Space Hall, Berlin
  3. Sister Ray, London
  4. Rough Trade West, London
  5. Hard Wax, Berlin

The top spots on both lists are pretty much on lockdown, at least on any year we make it to Reykjavik.  Easy Street is our local Seattle area go-to, and Lucky is a home-away-from-home in Iceland.

I didn’t do much traveling in the US this year, but a January business trip to Chicago found me in a hotel just a few blocks from Reckless, and I went there every night.  We also made it down to Bend, Oregon for a wedding and got to spend some time (and money) at Ranch Records where I found a few intriguing punk titles.  Daybreak in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood continues to impress with its variety and good prices, and the massive selection at the Seattle branch of Silver Platters is always worth a visit.

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The international list was a bit tougher to narrow down because we went to some outstanding shops in the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Iceland.  Berlin’s Space Hall (listening stations – right) is an essential stop, especially if you’re into electronic music.  Hard Wax, while not nearly as large as Space Hall, was well-curated and every single thing I flipped past seemed interesting.  In London I had my best used buying experiences at Rough Trade West and Sister Ray – I’m pretty sure I could have easily blown my entire vinyl budget for the trip in either of those stores.  There were some other great stops as well – London’s Phonica Records and Potsdam’s Silverspeed Records would have probably made the list any other year, but in 2019 the competition was steep.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 1 by Henry Rollins
  2. Facing the Other Way:  The Story of 4AD by Martin Aston
  3. England’s Hidden Reverse by David Keenan
  4. The 33 1/3 B-Sides by Will Stockton and D. Gilson (eds.)
  5. Revenge of the She Punks by Vivien Goldman

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I think I only read six music-related books in 2019, so this list wasn’t too hard to put together.  Henry Rollins’ Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 1 just came out in November and it’s basically a journal-format love letter to music and record collecting covering a three year period.  It looks like Henry and the team have the next two volumes already in the works, so I’m sure I’ll devour those when they come out as well.  Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD was another high point as it opened my eyes to the 4AD label and turned me on to a number of bands I hadn’t heard of before, which is a big plus.  Same with England’s Hidden Reverse, which expanded my knowledge of some of the more fringe quasi-industrail performers who later became at least a bit more well-known like Coil, Current 93, and Nurse with Wound.

 

It’s hard to believe 2019 is in the books, but here we are again my friends.  We’re already starting to talk about travel plans for 2020 and it looks like the new year may take us to some new places on the planet, which means more new music to discover.  I can’t wait.

Iceland Airwaves 2019 – Reflections

It was great to be back in Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves after a one year absence, with the added benefit of this being a milestone for us – our 10th Airwaves.  It’s bizarre to think that as someone closer to 50 than 40 I’ve attended an Airwaves during over 20% of my years…

Because we missed 2018 this was our first time experiencing the festival under the new leadership and with the shorter four-day format.  There were considerably few bands in 2019 than in 2017, and perhaps even more noticeable way fewer off-venues.  My understanding is that the fee for being an official off-venue increased significantly, and based on the numbers I heard from folks in town the cost was prohibitive for many of the small businesses that hosted shows in past years.  This was also the first time I remember hearing people referring to Airwaves as a “showcase festival”.  With all that in mind, there wasn’t as much music happening as in years past, and bands played significantly fewer shows.  Despite that, there was plenty going on and we got into the groove of the slower pace, taking advantage of the extra time to connect with friends.

And friends were the theme of Iceland Airwaves 2019 for us.  While I missed the music last year as I sat in the basement of my workplace and desperately worked with the team to try to get a software release done in time, at the end of the day what I missed most was seeing all of our friends.  So this year we made a point of connecting with everyone possible, while also making some new friends along the way.  Some folks weren’t sure if they’d be coming back in 2020, but by the end of the week most of them were already talking about early bird passes being available.  The smaller, more intimate feel of Airwaves, and Reykjavik in general, creates these opportunities to build relationships, and that’s a big part of what makes it special.  If you’d have told me in 2009 how many people we’d know and stay and touch with due to Airwaves I wouldn’t have believed you.

Best Venue:  It was a strange year without Harpa, and while KEX Hostel was elevated to on-venue status we somehow never made it there.  In fact we spent most of our on-venue time at the Reykjavik Art Museum, which while adequate is never going to be anyone’s favorite spot.  Ultimately I come away with feeling that once again Gamla Bíó is the best place in Reykjavik to see a show, despite the fact that we only saw one band perform there (Glass Museum).  The strangest place we saw a show was definitely Waldorfskólinn Sólstafir, a local school where we were surrounded by kids.  You’d never see that in the US, my friends.  Here if a bunch of foreigners show up at a grade school, someone is calling a SWAT team.

Best Show:  For the second Airwaves in a row I’m going with Hatari (below).  To say that their set is a performance would be an understatement, and since I also love their music it was more or less a no-brainer.  A super close second was a bit of a surprise – the off-venue Lucky Records show by Hermigerville.  Not only did he have half the crowd actually dancing, but he also dropped in a couple of The Magnetics covers since he’d performed as part of their retro set the night before.  We ended up missing that show because it conflicted with Hatari, so it was awesome to catch a few of those old 80s-style synth bangers.  Honorable mentions to Mammút, who I hadn’t seen in forever and who sounded fantastic, and the up-and-comers Blóðmör with their straight-ahead style of classic metal.

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Best New-To-Me Band:  The winner here is definitely Lydmor.  We’d never heard of her before seeing her at Hressó and her performance was one of those experiences where even if you’re not 100% into whatever is happening at the moment, you’re still captivated by it and don’t want to leave because you know something completely different and unexpected is right around the corner.  I’m not sure how this will translate to listening to Lydmor’s music without the live component, but I’ll definitely be checking out some of her stuff.

Coolest Music Purchase:  I bought a TON of stuff this trip.  So much, in fact, that I couldn’t fit all the vinyl in my DJ carry-on bag which left me with a hard choice – try to pack some in my suitcase or spend a bunch of money to have it shipped.  I opted for the former and the guys a Lucky provided me with a solid box and some extra 12″ cardboard pieces, and after strategically deciding what I’d put in my suitcase (i.e. less expensive stuff) and what I’d carry on (more expensive stuff) we got the box into the suitcase surrounded by clothes and… it worked <phew>!  The finally tally was something absurd like 45 records of various sizes, probably 25 CDs, and a fistful of cassettes.  Restraint is not my strong suit. Plus I had a lot of catching up to do after having missed a year.

As for the coolest purchase, well, it’s actually something we picked up in London at Sister Ray prior to heading to Reykjavik – Sensational‘s debut album Loaded With Power.  I pretty much never find Sensational vinyl in the US and this was released by a German label, so I was stoked to find it.  Honorable mention for the super limited (edition of 20) Blóðmör demo tape Á Hljómleikum that a friend snagged and held onto for me.  Those guys are definitely going places and this stuff will be even more impossible to get in the future.

Biggest Regret:  There were a few bands we missed who I’d like to have seen, especially Agent Fresco and the Biggi DJ set.  However, the biggest miss was not seeing Berndsen perform at a clothing story, because everyone who went said it was off the charts.  And having seen some photos, it clearly was.  So I’ll make a point of catching up with the big redhead next year.

 

We didn’t see nearly as many bands in 2019 as we have in the past, even when you account for the Airwaves being one day shorter.  Typically we’d see somewhere from 35-40 performances in five days, but this time around that number was probably in the low 20s.  And I’m fine with that.  In fact I liked not feeling like I just had to be on the run all day every day, tracking down show after show like I was just filling out a checklist.

I’d say there’s probably a 90% chance we’ll be back in Reykjavik in 360 or so days for the next installment of Airwaves.  Hopefully we’ll see you there.

Iceland Airwaves 2019, Day 3

Day 3 began with me sorting out my big stack of potential purchases from Lucky Records.   Turns out I’d put aside way more stuff than I realized, so much so that I may in fact be throwing away at least one pair of pants to make room (♠) enough in my bag.  I may need to re-evaluate my willpower.  But not until we get back home from Iceland with all this vinyl.

From there we hooked up with Rob of Revenge of Calculon fame for lunch, then caught up with him again later to see is solo set at Lucky Records in the afternoon.  It was every bit as funky and dirty and sleazy as we’ve come to expect from Calculon (below), and the crowd was definitely into it, including the one lucky fan who came away with his own luchador mask thanks to his dancing efforts.

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That took us to the on-venue portion of the evening, and for the second time this trip we decided to post up at the Reykjavik Art Museum for the entire evening.  The first two performers were pop-centric, Icelander Hildur and Norwegian Anna of the North.  Hildur’s set was reflective, the artist providing a bit of context for each song before it began, while Anna of the North was about unadulterated energy and joy.  Next up were Icelandic rock veterans Mammút (below), a band I believe we first saw all the way back in 2010, and man they have come a long way.  The music was tight and Kata’s vocals powerful, drawing tons of support and energy from the crowd, especially the Icelanders.  It was one of the best sets of the festival so far.

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And that, my friends, brings us to Hatari.  Ah, Hatari, a band loved by some, hated by others.  They garnered significant attention as Iceland’s entry for Eurovision 2019, the finals of which were held in Tel Aviv, for their pro-Palestinian statements prior to the finals, their pre-final release of a collaboration video with Palestinian singer Bashar Murad, and capping it off by showing a Palestinian flag on live TV immediately following their performance.  So again, loved by some, hated by others.  They’ve also received criticism for appropriating certain subcultural fashions on stage.  You can decide for yourself.  As for me, I clearly like their music, having ranked their four-song EP Neysluvara as my favorite release of 2017.

The show at the Art Museum (below) was, of course, a spectacle of bondage and fetish fashion cocooned in a story arc of impending global demise.  There were dancers.  There was a video projection.  There were lasers.  There were canisters shooting showers of sparks.  There were guest performers, including, I believe, none other than Murad himself. And there were beats, growled invectives, and falsettos.  In other words, it was absolutely fantastic.

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Three days in the book.  One more to go…

(♠) Seriously.