About Administrator

I live in the Seattle area and love searching out new and interesting music.

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”

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.  

A Flock of Seagulls – “A Flock of Seagulls” (1982)

It’s not accurate or fair to call A Flock of Seagulls one-hit wonders.  They had two Top 20 albums in the US, three singles that made it into the Top 30, and won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the song “D.N.A.”  “Space Age Love Song” is a legit jam.  And yet despite all of this the band is primarily remembered today for two things.  The hit single “I Ran (So Far Away)” and Mike Score’s haircut.

flockofseagulls

This faux one-hit wonder status seems like something that blossomed in the early 1980s, probably because MTV contributed to the accelerating emergence of actual one-hit wonders and changed the way we consumed music.  There seems to be a lot of nostalgia for this period (which could be me simply projecting my own sense of nostalgia onto the rest of you) and an endless supply of compilations of the era’s songs.  And if you’re doing an early 80s new wave comp there are a handful of obligatory songs that almost have to be included, their mythological places in the period’s musical landscape becoming separated from reality and in fact making their own reality.  “I Ran (So Far Away)” is one of those songs.  You could almost be forgiven for thinking that in 1982 we all just sat around listening to it along with “I Melt With You” and “Tainted Love” on a continuous loop.  Add the song to things like the GTA Vice City TV commercials and a reference to the band in Pulp Fiction (You, Flock of Seagulls.  Know why we’re here?) and it takes on a life of its own.  But in fact it only made it to #9 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1982.  It’s perhaps more ubiquitous today than it was when it was charting.

There are some good jams on A Flock of Seagulls.  “Modern Love Is Automatic” is classic new way, synthy and a bit dark with a certain insistent quality to it and could have easily been released as a single.  “Space Age Love Song” is rock solid, and of course you can’t deny the brilliance of “I Ran (So Far Away)” which catches your attention immediately, the first three seconds compelling you to continue listening.  It’s definitely a fun album and one that while a bit dated still holds up a pretty well.

The collection of freebies that recently came my way included the first three albums by A Flock of Seagulls, so I gave the others a listen as well.  Listen (1983) is a bit more chill and less poppy than A Flock of Seagulls, things moving into a more post-punk (“Nightmares”) and goth (“Transfer Affection”) realm.  The Story of a Young Heart (1984) opens with the very new romantic title track, and “European (I Wish I Was)” feels like it could have been a hit.  The B side opener “Remember David” is an uptempo rocker, a pleasant surprise and my favorite track on the record.