Sweaty Records – “Blizzard People” Compilation (2019)

Sometimes I ask myself questions like, “Is it OK to review a digital-only release on a blog dedicated to vinyl”, or “Should I write about this record if I’m ambivalent about it”.  If I’m foolish enough to ask things like this out loud and within earshot of Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, inevitably she’ll remind me, “It’s your blog, you can do whatever you want on it”.  Which is both true and good advice.  Recently I’ve been asking myself if a compilation could qualify for my year-end Top 5 releases list, and based on the strength of Blizzard People and my wife’s insightful reminders I think that answer is a definitive yes, at least for 2019, because it’s that good.

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The digital release of the six song Blizzard People came out back in March, and conservatively I’d guess I’ve played it at least 30 times since then.  It’s definitely the 2019 release I’ve played the most times this year, and I’m still not even remotely tired of it. I’ve been holding off writing about it until the vinyl version came out and earlier this week it appeared in my mailbox, so away we go.

I was hooked right from the opening beats of Logitech’s “Leather Forecast” and its refrain, does your wife even know…  It’s mysterious and mildly dangerous, the raised eyebrow of a bystander who finds themselves surprisingly attracted to something they normally wouldn’t give a second look.  Does your wife even know… maybe you’re actually into this even though you’d never even considered it before.  And that’s both exciting and a bit unsettling, just like these beats.

While I was already familiar with Iceland’s Sweaty Records from their 2016 VA_001 comp and therefore on board with their aesthetic, it was the involvement of Kuldaboli that initially drew me to Blizzard People.  And here he’s paired with none other than Volruptus, the duo combining on the high-tempo scattershot “Nightvision”, a high-pitched Speed Racer of a jam that would wear me out on the dance floor even though it’s only four-and-a-half minutes long.

Blizzard People is available online at Bandcamp HERE, both digitally and on vinyl (€12).  And I say get it while you can because this thing is hot as hell – all six tracks are outstanding.

Blóðmör – “Líkþorn” (2019)

I first connected with Haukur Valdimarsson on Facebook back in 2017.  The thing that an Icelandic teenager and a guy from Seattle on a collision course with turning 50 had in common was our mutual love for the metal band HAM. (♠)  We are HAM!  We’ve stayed in touch both via Facebook and on Discogs over the last few years, generally to commiserate about Icelandic metal and punk, particularly favorites like HAM and Skálmöld.

Then out of the blue a few months back I see Haukur tagged in an article about the 2019 winners of Músíktilraunir, a.k.a. Icelandic Music Experiments, a.k.a. Iceland’s Battle of the Bands.  Could this be the same Haukur?  Did I even know he played guitar?  It was, and he does, and his metal band Blóðmör took home this year’s top prize.  Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, Haukur was also recognized as the event’s top guitarist.  Damn!  I mean sure, if there was an award for the most valuable Microsoft-Excel-user-guy at my company I’d have an outside shot of winning (♣), but to be named the best young axe-wielder in an entire country?  That’s pretty great.

Blóðmör (named after Icelandic blood sausage) just put out a five-song digital EP on Bandcamp (HERE) back in June, and I have to say it’s some damn good stuff.  I strongly encourage you to head over there, download it, and kick the kids a few bucks – yes, they’re offering it up for free, but I’d be willing to bet any cash they get will be spent on gear, studio time, and other music related stuff, so help ’em out.

I of course took full advantage of my relationship with Haukur and asked if he’d do an interview for Life in the Vinyl Lane, and he readily agreed.

Haurkur, you and I originally connected due to our mutual love of HAM. What metal bands drove your passion for the genre?

My biggest inspirations for writing songs for Blóðmör have been all kinds of bands. Mostly Icelandic but also bands from other countries. HAM has obviously had a massive impact. Then I would have to say the Megadeth has affected me a lot as well. Icelandic punk bands from the 80’s have had an impact on my writing. That would be bands like Purrkur Pillnikk, Fræbbblarnir and Þeyr.

How did Blóðmör come together as a band?

Blóðmör started right after another band I was in called it quits. This was in the fall of 2016. We just wanted to make punk music but we struggled a lot and quit after just a few months. Then in 2018 we got a new drummer and started playing again. Soon we played our first concert and have been in the scene since.

Blóðmör recently won Músíktilraunir, and you were recognized as the best guitarist.  What was that experience like, both preparing for it and ultimately winning the competition?

We prepared for Músíktilraunir by rehearsing the songs we were going to play over and over.  Even when we knew them 100% we just pushed them even more until they sounded perfect. When we made it to the finals we were so happy but after winning the whole competition we were left speechless. It was an amazing experience.

Your new five-song EP Líkþorn came out in June. How was the experience of recording that album?

Recordings of our EP started in October last year. We went to the studio very inexperienced and basically just didn’t know anything what we were doing. It took a few months to finish the recording, they were over in February this year. After that our friend Biggi from Alchemia started mixing the album and after that Oculus mastered it. Then on June 14. it finally got released.

How were you able to get Óttarr Proppé to join the band on “Frumskógurinn”?  How was it working with one of your idols?

I’ve known Óttarr for some time now for a few reasons. So it was easy for me to contact him. He was very open for the idea so he came. It was an amazing experience having him in the studio with us. When I heard him sing to our song for the first time I just couldn’t stop smiling.

What’s next for Blóðmör?

Our next step would be writing enough new material to record a full length album. We have almost 3 new songs ready at the moment, 2 of which we play live already. But I think we will not go to the studio again until we have at least 8-10 songs ready. We will take as much time we will need. I think it’s better to wait rather than doing this in a hurry.

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blodmorI was intrigued when Haurkur mentioned Purrkur Pillnikk and Fræbbblarnir as influences, because even at first glance there’s more than a bit at punk at play with Blóðmör – after all, the longest song on Líkþorn clocks in at a very un-metal-like 3:04, definitely a departure from the ambitious lengths of so many metal tracks these days.  Stylistically there are punk elements as well, though make no mistake – this is guitar-driven metal through-and-through.  Right from the opening of the title track “Líkþorn” we’re treated to driving riffs, followed by growled vocals, then right into a classic metal instrumental interlude before reversing course and taking us to the finish line in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee.  But lest you be afraid the guys are going to stay in this zone for the next 12 minutes, au contraire mon frère, because “Klósettið” is a pure rocker, its vocals cadenced in pop punk fashion and slightly at odds with the brief metallic solo burst in the song’s second half.  “Skuggalegir Menn” takes us in a doom direction, the vocals going lower and more primal, the rhythm section pulsating with plodding weight, a HAM-esque crusher that still maintains a dose of youthful enthusiasm.

The first time I heard “Frumskógurinn” I stopped dead in my tracks and said out loud to no one in particular (I was home alone at the time), “wait, that’s Óttarr Proppé“, the one and only vocalist for HAM and Dr. Spock!  And I have to say he fits perfectly into this track, probably the most punk jam on Líkþorn, one reminiscent of some of the finest first wave Scandinavian punk bands.  Óttarr takes the middle of the song in a raspy, accusatory direction before the guys bring it back home perfectly, picking up right where they left off before his vocal interlude.  The album closes with “Barnaníðingur”, another rocker characterized by a driving rhythm, though one that picks up speed along the way like a car with no breaks heading down a hill, going faster and faster until the collision at the end that brings the whole thing to a sudden and jarring stop.

I suspect that we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from Blóðmör in the coming years, and hopefully they’ll land a few shows during Airwaves this year so that I can check them out live.

(♠) And the English language, because mercifully for me Haukur’s English is probably better than mine.

(♣) OK, maybe I’d be in the top three… or maybe the top five… but spreadsheets are cool, dammit!

Singapore Sling – “Killer Classics” (2019)

There’s a certain nihilism to Singapore Sling.  It’s not the nihilism that burns hot and causes one to lash out at the world, but more one of resignation, the sense of a unceasing buzz in your mind that you can’t shake, a slow death by a thousand cuts, the adding of the tiniest weights onto your chest done so slowly that you can’t even sense the change but that over time makes it harder and harder to breathe.  Hell, it’s right there in the song titles.  Killer Classics gives us “Nothing Matters But Rock ‘N’ Roll”.  Prior to that we got “Nothing’s Theme” and “Nothing And Nowhere” on an album called Kill Kill Kill (Songs About Nothing), and “Nuthin’s Real” on The Tower of Fornicity.  And the list goes on.  “The Nothing Inside”; “Nothin’ Ain’t Bad”; and a possible candidate simply called “Noth”.  That’s a whole lot of nothing.  If there are three overarching themes to Singapore Sling’s music they are:

  • Nothing
  • Death (including killing and various forms of destruction)
  • Rock ‘N’ Roll

My perception is that in this trinity Nothing and Death are the elements out there in the world, the weights being put on top of you, the inevitable outcome to life.  Rock ‘N’ Roll, however, is the salvation.  It’s the one thing that cracks the wall of nihilism, the one thing that makes life worth living.  I’m probably extrapolating a bit on the Rock ‘N’ Roll part, but bear with me.  “Nothing Matters But Rock ‘N’ Roll”, we’re told on the latest album, which is a step in the right direction from when the Slingers opined back in 2004 that Life Is Killing My Rock ‘N’ Roll (which included a song of the same name).  The feeling I get when I listen to Singapore Sling is that of driving at night, the windows rolled down and the air coming up from the road still radiating heat from the day’s scorching sun, racing to escape that constant buzz of Nothing and Death chasing you in the rear view mirror, trying to outrace fate.  And, of course, blasting Singapore Sling’s psych soundtrack to it all on the car stereo.

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Right from the opening riff of “Suicide Twist” (Death again!) it was clear what Singapore Sling has in store for us on Killer Classics (more Death).  They’ve honed their brand of shoegazey-psych to a sharp edge and they use it with the precision of surgeons, cutting away the pretense and bloat of what rock has become and skinning it down to its most basic and rawest elements.  The drum beats are the relentless pressure of life, the fuzz of the guitars the unceasing pressure trying to overwhelm you, the bass following your heartbeat as it rises and falls as you struggle to maintain your sanity, and the vocals are the voice inside your head, the one that sometimes tells you that you can do it, but at other times calls for the sweet release of death.

Grav Spee – “Grav Spee” Cassette (2019)

gravspeeThe latest from new Reykjavik-based label Eyewitness Records is a three-song thumper of a self-titled tape from Grav Spee.  The cassette opens with “Eating Out”, an electro pounder that includes some industrial-metallic-like top end flourishes to give the entire thing a very “otherness” quality, something you can’t quite put your finger on, something both familiar and yet… just slightly off in a way that connects with your most primal fight-or-flight neurons.  Do you like it?  Do you hate it?  Are you afraid of it?  To me it bypasses both the fight and flight options and freezes me solid like a deer in the headlights, unable to look or turn away as a ton of steel and plastic bears down on me doing 60 mph.

“Carpull 55” does away with any pretense and hits like a wrecking ball driven by a mechanical beat, a beat that at times takes on an edge of distortion, running hot and destructive.  “Mongo” is like being submerged underwater, sealed inside a steel drum that someone keeps banging on from outside, metallic and with the sound waves distorted by their travel through the fluid.

Give Grav Spee a listen on Bandcamp HERE.  As of this point it appears there are still cassettes available as well, though it’s limited to only 25 copies so it probably won’t be around for long.

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