International Party Mix

It’s that time of year again.  Time for the 16th Annual Post-Holiday Holiday part at the Life in the Vinyl Lane house.  We put on this shindig every January and invite our friends over to eat and drink their fill.  And, as we’ve done for the last 10 or so years, we also made an official party CD as a give away for those who stop by.  This year we’re going with a sort of travel theme to the festivities, so the 16 artists on the CD are all from different countries.  Here’s what we put together:

1.  “Pale Green Ghost” – John Grant (USA)
2.  “Storm” – Django Django (Scotland)
3.  “Iso Pasi” – Lama (Finland)
4.  “Amidinine” – Bombino (Niger)
5.  “Don’t Mess” – Juvelen (Sweden)
6.  “Feel Like You Should” – Shiny Darkly (Denmark)
7.  “Hand of Law” – Radio Birdman (Australia)
8.  “Egu Szot Se Szoij” – Sarolta Zalatnay (Hungary)
9.  “Gleipnir” – Skálmöld (Iceland)
10.  “Dynamite” – Jamiroquai (England)
11.  “Manhattan Skyline” – A-ha (Norway)
12.  “Wenu Wenu” – Omar Souleyman (Syria)
13.  “Top of the World” – Shonen Knife (Japan)
14.  “Mission a Paris” – Gruppo Sportivo (Netherlands)
15.  “O mundo é já aqui” – OVO (Portugal)
16.  “Someone Says” – Casino Royale (Italy)

We think it’s a pretty cool mix, so we’re excited to hear what our guests think.

But for now, I have to get back to some serious party prep.

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Shiny Darkly – “Dead Stars” EP (2013)

Iceland Airwaves is great because it gives us both the opportunity to see a bunch of bands we already like, while at the same time catching some new (or at least new-to-us) groups.  Truth be told we actually spend more time seeing bands for the first time, and this year was no different with something like 32 of the 41 bands we saw being completely new for us.  And of those 32, two stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest – Syrian pop star Omar Souleyman (more on him in a future post) and a young group from Denmark called Shiny Darkly.

I’d flagged Shiny Darkly prior to the trip as a band I wanted to check out on the strength of the track “Diana” that was linked to their profile on the Airwaves website.  The guys played a full schedule, something like five or six shows over the course of the festival, and we were fortunate enough to catch them at one of our favorite off-venues, the Nordic House.  The room there is small but acoustically impressive, and it’s a quiet space that requires bands to strip down their sounds.  It’s an intimate setting, and while the lead singer let us know that Shiny Darkly are normally a much louder band, we felt the location was perfect for their style of music.

From the first note what went immediately through my mind was that Shiny Darkly was channeling the brilliance of Warsaw / early Joy Division, but in an updated fashion.  They have a deep, bass heavy sound that perfectly accompanies Kristoffer Bech’s melancholy voice.  This is a band that brings you songs like “He’s Suicidal” and “Bury Us” – you get the vibe.  Their live show was excellent, and it just so happened they had a small number of their soon-to-be released EP Dead Stars for sale, so I made sure to snag one after the set.

With only three songs one could be forgiven for thinking this is just an extended single, but Shiny Darkly doesn’t shortchange you with quick numbers – the entire EP is over 18 minutes, including the marathon 9:40 title track that takes up the entire A side.  The vibe is heavy.  It’s insistent. It builds, and it becomes unrelenting.  The songs seem ready to blow apart, but like The Doors before them Shiny Darkly pulls it back from the abyss just before it all slips away through your fingers.

“Bury Us” is my favorite track right now, sounding like The Cure taking the ‘Til Tuesday song “Voices Carry” to a deep, dark place.  Bech’s voice is like a separate instrument that flows though the structure of the song like mercury, slow and sticky, tugging at everything it touches.  The guitar work is frantic and the drumming shifts between simply keeping the pace and going in double time to drive the emotion of the song forward.  Deep stuff.

The vinyl is available online, and with an iTunes download only costing $2.97 if you prefer that route, you owe it to yourself to at least check it out.  That’s about the price of a large cup of coffee.  It’s only three songs, so you’ll only need to invest a minute of your time to sample it.  Their self-titled EP from 2012 is also available, so take a listen to that while you’re at it.  Feed your ears.

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 3

There are lots of reasons people come to Iceland Airwaves.  For some it’s a convenient “excuse” to get to Iceland and experience both the incredible natural beauty of one of the last truly unspoiled places on earth while also getting to see some cool music.  For others it’s a chance to party like it’s 1999 and soak in (and soak up) Reykjavik’s notorious evening party scene.  And some of us are here chasing the dragon.  Going to shows and secretly hoping for that next “high”, that next experience with some band you’ve never heard of who totally and completely blows your mind and makes you fall in love with them, like a junkie trying to recapture that first big hit.  That experience seems to become more and more rare over time, but if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone you might capture it, and if you do you’ll remember what life is all about.  “…if you try sometimes, you’ll find… you get what you need…”  I got what I needed last night.

But before we get to that, was saw lots of other great bands yesterday.  First we hit a few off-venue shows at the Nordic House, which has a small room seating maybe 50-70 people and fantastic acoustics.  There we saw an impressive young band from Denmark called Shiny Darkly who channeled the long-dead spirt of Warsaw in impressive fashion.  We liked ’em enough we’re going to try to catch them again on Sunday at their Lucky Records in-store, and I can promise a full post on them sometime soon since I bought a copy of their brand new vinyl EP (the second copy ever sold apparently, since someone else got to them just before I did… doh!).  I will be keeping an eye on them.  Halleluwah followed with a nice, short four-song set that was, I believe, all new material.

From there it was off to Harpa to see an off-venue show by Singapore Sling that sort of spilled out of the 12 Tonar record store.  Unfortunately the gear didn’t seem set up too well – it was way too loud to the point of distortion, and you could barely hear the singing at all.  Turns out they sounded way better from inside the venue’s downstairs bathroom (true story); maybe they should have moved everyone down there to listen.  It doesn’t always need to be turned up to 11 to be good.  We then headed out to a bar called Dillon in hopes of catching Brain Police, but it was so packed we couldn’t even make it to the top of the stairs to reach the room… so back to Harpa for the on-venue program.

Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band is exactly as advertised – this band is BIG.  Like 18 performers big.  They play a fun style of Afro-funk fusion with horns and guitars and bongos and just about anything else you can imagine and are a wonderfully enjoyable live experience (we saw them a few years ago as well).  I picked up their new double album on vinyl and can only hope it captures their live energy.  Valdimar was up next with a sort of folk rock style that was pretty good, and certainly enjoyable.

That brought us to American ex-pat and now Iceland resident John Grant.  Grant was given a longer than normal time slot (a full hour) and he’s the toast of the town, so we figured it would be packed – and it was almost beyond packed, really.  Our best guess is about 1,500+ people crammed into that room to see him, and they didn’t leave disappointed.  I wasn’t familiar with his music, but was captivated by his lyrics – Grant comes across like he’s having a conversation with you more than singing to you.  His lyrics are either the most deeply honest and personal I’ve heard in a long time, or he’s totally full of it.  I’m not 100% sure which is which, but I’m thinking the former.  Lots of songs about frustration and lost loves and ego and pain.

And that, my friends, brings us to that dragon I’ve been chasing.  He came to me from an unexpected place – Syria.  Yes, that Syria.  The one that’s been in the news due to the ongoing unpleasantness.  He’s a 40-something pop singer named Omar Souleyman and within 30 seconds of hitting the stage he owned the 1,000+ person crowd at Harpa.  Souleyman’s brand of electronic dance pop is infectious – there are some typical dance beats in the background, but mixed with very Eastern sounds and instruments all capably put together by the guy running his electronics and keyboard.  And Souleyman himself… despite speaking three words of English/Icelandic the entire set (“hello” and “thank you”) he had the crowd dancing at full throttle, making him his playthings and getting them to clap or raise their hands at will.  There was dancing.  There was crowd surfing.  A bunch of coins made it out of my pants pockets and ended up on the floor because even I was dancing.  And someone puked all over a garbage can.  Afterwards the room smelled of spilled beer and body odor.  It was unquestionably one of my Top 3 all-time Airwaves shows… and may actually be in a first place tie with FM Belfast at NASA a few years back.

This is why we work.  So we can save up some money and chase these incredible life experiences, like totally losing yourself in some Syrian electro-pop with a thousand of your new friends, dancing into the night.  It’s the journey that matters.