“The Fight Is On” Compilation (1985 / 1988)

I have a fascination with extreme music.  It’s not so much that I like listening to most of it so much as I’m simply infatuated by how far outside the mainstream it is.  My self-perception is that I’m more interested in the fact that it exists, the people who perform it, and the people who actively follow it than I am in the music itself.  I’ve always been fascinated with subcultures, especially those on the extreme fringes, so I suppose this is a natural extension.  If I’m self-analyzing, and clearly I am, this infatuation is possibly a kind of respect (or envy….?) for those who live the life they choose to live even when it is well outside of what society deems normal or, at times, even acceptable.  Do I have some hidden longing to exist as an outsider?  Maybe… though I doubt it.  I don’t have any fundamental problems with my suburban life, or my job, or anything like that.  Most of the time I enjoy it.  Ultimately I think it comes down to admiring those with the drive to follow their passions, even when their passions take them to difficult places.  It’s not so much what they’re doing, it’s how they’re doing it.

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Which brings me to this recently acquired copy of The Fight Is On.  This comp is filled with the kind of outlier artists who intrigue me – Coil, Nurse With Wound, Current 93, The Hafler Trio… musicians who take approaches to music that are well outside of the mainstream, sometimes going so far that you could consider them anti-music.  I’m fascinated by them, and while none are on regular rotation in my life, when I listen to them their sonic compositions do have an effect on me.  Not anything clearly defined, mind you.  There are no fantasies that arise from hearing them.  But what they do is they change the way I perceive, which in essence is changing the way my brain is wired, opening me up to new and different and unexpected possibilities to see things in different ways.  And that’s something valuable, not just in how I interact with music, but also in how I interact with the world.

The nine tracks on The Fight Is On are on the more elemental end of the spectrum, songs that create a mood without generating a sense of anxiety or dread.  So once again I’ve been thrown for a loop, as The Fight Is On did not give me what I expected from these performers.  Instead I have something bordering on enjoyable.  Which of course begs the question – would I have felt this way hearing The Fight Is On say five years ago… or has my paradigm shifted in ways that change how I perceive these songs today?  My money is on the latter, and for that I’m grateful.

Konsulat – “Kolaport” (2018)

konsulatkolaportThis little 10″ gem is a collaboration of Arnljótur Sigurðsson, best known for his work with the Icelandic reggae band Ojba Rasta (but just as importantly in my mind for playing bass on the best songs on Berndsen’s Lover In the Dark), and Þórður Grímsson of A & E Sounds fame.  It’s a super limited release of only 25 copies, each of which are hand-numbered just inside the jacket.

Kolaport is definitely not what I was expecting from this pair.  It’s beat-driven electronica, though I’m at a loss to provide a subgenera.  I’d say it’s mid-tempo – hardly ambient, but not a dancefloor banger either.  They synths on “Dagga Dagga” are a touch retro while the beats have an 808-like punch, remaining cohesive while never falling into any kind of rut.  Meanwhile “Lífsblómið” introduces vocal samples overlaid onto a more more sterile and colder beat.  I confess I’m a sucker for these kinds of samples, though, and I dig what Konsulat are doing on this track.

You can give Kolaport a listen on Bandcamp HERE.  Note the full digital album is eight tracks, while this 10″ is comprised of only two.  Given the limited quantity of the vinyl pressing, it’ll likely be a tough one to track down in a physical format.

Hvörf – “Music Library 01” (2019)

hvorflibrary01Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason is best known for his work as Epic Rain, and in fact the fourth Epic Rain album came out earlier this month (review to follow in the upcoming weeks…).  However, that’s not the only record Jóhannes released in 2019.  Hell, it’s not even the only album he released in November, because on the same day that Epic Rain’s All Things Turn To Rust came out, so too did Music Library 01 from his new project Hvörf.  Joining him as part of Hvörf is none other than Þórir Georg, who has appeared on Life in the Vinyl Lane many times for his solo work as well as with Fighting ShitÓreiða, Roht, and probably a dozen other bands I’m forgetting.  Between them the pair have covered a wide range of musical genres from electronic to hip hop, singer-songwriter to hardcore, indie to black metal, so when I first heard about Hvörf I was curious as to what kind of sounds they’d make together.

I was not expecting library music.

Now, don’t be confused.  Music Library 01 isn’t some kind of generic collection of music and sound designed with TV and film producers in mind.  At least not entirely.  There are absolutely some delicate tracks such as “The Cosmic Connection”, with it’s piano and gentle guitar foundation, that would be absolutely perfect for a movie score.  But we also have more experimental works like “Life On Other Planets” that utilize dialog samples from other media as part of the sonic composition.  When viewed as a whole we see that Music Library 01 is anchored by these two styles, and in fact they alternate across the albums eight tracks – the odd numbered songs played as low key and at times dramatic instrumentals while the even numbered tracks have a more sci-fi sensibility and use dialog sampling all of which seems to be tied to aliens and/or a possible nuclear apocalypse, giving them a somewhat dystopian feel.  It’s like two four-song EPs, except instead of each EP taking up one thematically consistent side the songs are shuffled together like a deck of cards.  The effect is not as obvious as you might think, because while the two styles are different they retain some similar stylistic elements, the underlying atmospheric foundation the same for all eight compositions.  It’s some exception chill out music.

Music Library 01 is available for listening at Bandcamp HERE.  The vinyl was put out on the Lucky Records imprint, and while not for sale on Bandcamp it is available through their store in Reykjavik.  Discogs indicates it’s a relatively small pressing of 250 copies, so make sure to get yours.

Spykes & Parashi – “Braille License Plates for Sullen Nights” 7″ (2019)

All empires eventually fall, be they the various Egyptian and Chinese dynasties, one collapsing and another rising to take its place, or more Western models that see an empire fall to be replace by something from outside.  Sometimes the demise is gradual, like that of Rome which split itself in two and then watched helplessly as the western portion slowly corroded and collapsed.  Other times the end is more definitive, like the Romans usurping the Carthaginians and not only selling off the people of Carthage into slavery but, so we are told, even salting the earth so that nothing would ever grow there again, an historical exclamation point if there ever was one.  Often empires last for hundreds of years, other times they explode onto the scene and are gone in the blink of an historical eye, like the dozen year rise and fall of Germany in the 1930s and 40s.  But if there is one thing we’ve learned from history, it’s that all empires fall.  All of them.  Every single one.  It’s as inevitable as death, taxes, and the futility of the Seattle Mariners.

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Braille License Plates for Sullen Nights is the soundtrack of the end times as the once glorious empire circles the drain of history with increasing rapidity, occasional desperate reaches out of the abyss unsuccessfully trying to arrest the fall and stop the inevitable.  The demise is like gravity, the combination of electronics and strings pulling your tonearm toward the center hole before reaching the end that is not an end, the locked groove hell of the Vandals sacking Rome yet again or the Russian artillery delivering a modern Ragnarök upon Berlin.  Even in final defeat you can’t escape that hopelessness of the repetition of the locked groove, the sound of lost glories and the unceasing, plodding drudgery of defeat and decay.

Limited to 200 copies on 7″ vinyl, each with a unique hand-cut jacket, Braille License Plates for Sullen Nights is available on the Radical Documents Bandcamp page HERE.  Are you up to looking into the inevitability of future collapse?  Can you handle the existential dread?  Only you can answer these questions for yourself.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chris & Cosey – “Technø Primitiv” (1985)

I’m clearly becoming infatuated with Cosey Fanni Tutti.  Whether it’s part of Chris & Cosey, or Carter Tutti, or any of the other permutations, I find the blend of Chris Carter’s soundscapes and the dreaminess of her voice to be perfect companions, both to one another as well as to me as I sit and listen.  In fact I’m dangerously close to going down a Cosey rabbit hole and buying up all of her stuff that I can get my hands on, which could be a dangerous proposition given that I’ll be in London in a few weeks time.

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Technø Primitiv was the duo’s fourth full-length album (♠), a somewhat somber dance record, a languid sonic dream sequence that turns the listener back into themselves, Cosey’s voice like a guru’s mantra allowing you to slowly slide into another state of consciousness.  The oddest twist on the album comes at the end of side A.  The second-to-last song is “Haunted Heroes”, a serious ambient number that replaces her vocals with what I believe to be a war veteran describing some of his experiences, his voice distant but clear.  That’s immediately followed by the sugary “Stolen Kisses”, the closest thing on Technø Primitiv to a true pop song.  The contrast between the two is palpable and a bit startling when “Stolen Kisses” first begins.

Technø Primitiv is the kind of good that can cause a paradigm shift in how you think about music.  I’ve been flirting with more and more electronic and dance music recently, and this may just be the gentle shove I needed to jump into the deep end of the pool.

(♠)  As near as I can tell, at least… sometimes with artists that constantly put out albums with name variations it can be difficult to tell.