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.  

“Ohrensausen” Compilation (1986)

ohrensausenThe other day I posted about “difficult” music, and today I’m continuing along in the same vein. Ohrensausen and the previously reviewed The Elephant Table Album share two artists, Coil and Nurse With Wound, but that’s it.  The only other artist on Ohrensausen I’m remotely familiar with is Asmus Tietchens, so I’m a close to being a blank slate here.

The comp comes out of the gate strong with the somewhat schizophrenic “Split and Well Hung” by Chrystal Belle Scrodd, a jarring piece that feels like a few different tracks spliced together.  Nurse With Wound’s “The Cockroach of Del Monte” is one of Nurse’s more coherent track, one that certainly has many seemingly random elements but arranges them in a way that makes sense.  The Coil track is surprisingly bombastic and militaristic, though that shouldn’t have come as any surprise given its title, “His Body Was a Playground for the Nazi Elite”.  Probably my favorite song on the copy is H.N.A.S.’ “Speck Des Jahres”, the second half of which is a great, driving industrial jam.

I have the second pressing of Ohrensausen from 1987, which is on white vinyl.  If you do find a copy of this in the wild, check and see if it includes the inserts – there should be four total, though mine only had three (dammit!).  And for what it’s worth, it’s a lot more difficult than the self-described difficult The Elephant Table Album I posted about the other day.

“The Elephant Table Album: A Compilation of Difficult Music” (1983)

What do we mean when we describe music as “difficult”?  I know I’ve done it before here on the blog, but I suspect it means different things to different people. Is it music with unusual timing signatures?  Disturbing lyrics?  Experimental work with sound that doesn’t fall into any kind of recognizable pattern or framework?  Genres you don’t personally care for?  Something that creates an unsettled mood in the listener?  Or maybe all of the above… or none… I don’t know.  When I use the term difficult, I usually mean something I find musically well outside of the norm, something I can’t quite wrap my mind around.  This includes non-music and noise, as well as experimental and avantgarde.  It’s music that challenges my preconceptions of what actually constitutes “music”, and I find it valuable in that it expands my mind.  I don’t always like it, and often I only listen to a given album once, but that doesn’t mean the listening experience wasn’t valuable.

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So I was intrigued when I ran across this record yesterday over at Easy Street Records, because it says right on the cover that it’s “a compilation of difficult music”.  I wondered what that meant to the label, and the first artist name my eyes fell upon was Chris and Cosey.  Hmm… I don’t normally think of them as difficult.  Is that because I’ve listened to them a bunch over the last few months?  A little further down is Coil.  OK, I sort of get that, at least some of their stuff.  Nurse With Wound.  Now this is making a bit more sense.  I only know a few of the other 17 performers (♠), specifically SPK, Muslimgauze, and Legendary Pink Dots.  That gave me enough context to know that this was an album I needed to buy.

The genesis of The Elephant Table Album was an article Dave Henderson wrote for the May 7, 1983 issue of Sounds entitled “Wild Planet!” (the text of which can be found HERE).  It was a survey of the more extreme music being made at the time, a listing of dozens of bands with blurbs on each.  Four months after that article appeared this double album came out.  I’m not sure how it was received at the time, nor do I know how I would have reacted to it back in 1983 (probably badly), but rough 36 years later in my living room it’s tremendous.  400 Blows’ “Beat the Devil” is a high point, along with the Chris and Cosey jam.

Styles mix on this album, though there’s still a general cohesion.  The Elephant Table Album opens with an industrial dance track, Portion Control’s “Chew You to Bits”, then takes a sharp left turn to Chris and Cosey, though their “Raining Tears of Love” is less poppy than their later sound, a methodical electro dystopian dream sequence.  From there we take another sudden swerve and find ourselves listening to horns and synths and piano and disconnectedly haunting vocals in the very avantgarde “Musak from Hawthorne Court” by Metamorphosis.  And it just keeps going on like that, song after song, surprise after surprise.

I can’t say enough good things about The Elephant Table Album.  It was re-released on vinyl in 1989 with a different set of liner notes, and that same year a CD version came out, though the CD only has 17 tracks.  It also sounds like the CD version was actually recorded directly from a vinyl copy and not from the masters, so buyer beware.

(♠)  The track listing on the reverse of the record goes up to 21.  However, Muslimgauze is listed twice, both times numbered 9.  So what’s the deal?  Looking at the grooves on that side it looks like the record only has five tracks, which would mean that despite Muslimgauze being listed twice there is in fact only one track devoted to him on the record.

Hula – “1000 Hours” (1986)

I’ve been on a bit of a Hula kick lately, which is odd considering that up until a few months ago I’d never heard of this industrial dance outfit from Sheffield.  I came across four of their records over at Seattle’s Jive Time Records.  They looked interesting, and a quick web search showed they’d be right up my alley.  Then a few weeks ago I found two more of their records at Easy Street, so snagged those as well.  So I went from having never heard of Hula to having six of their records in a pretty short amount of time.

I’ve already listened to five of them, two albums and three 12″ singles, but somehow never got motivated enough to post about them on the blog.  I’m not sure why, other than that the over the last few months I haven’t been as interested in writing about what I’m listening to.  That’s not to say I’m not listening to a ton of stuff, because I am.  It’s also not to say my compulsion to write has diminished, because it hasn’t.  I don’t have much in the way of an explanation other than sometimes it feels like I’m just writing the same words and using the same adjectives over and over again.  For 2020 I’m thinking I might start posting less, but doing longer pieces.  Or maybe it’ll be business as usual.  Or maybe I’ll start collecting vintage matchbooks and start writing about those.  I don’t know.  I tend to get very intensely into a subject for about five years at a time.  Sometimes I get a second five year run on the same thing, other times not.  I’ve been doing Life in the Vinyl Lane for seven years (♠) now, so maybe this is just a speed bump (the “Seven Year Itch”?) and I have another solid three years of passion left in the tank.  We’ll see.

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But for now, back to Hula.  There’s a good interview with them from 1985 reprinted online HERE, which you might enjoy for some background.  1000 Hours is a double album.  The first record is live performance recorded in Amsterdam in early 1985 and it has more of an experimental feel than much of their studio work.  The sensation is industrial, with metallic clanging and looping and trippy repetition.  You get the sense that there’s a lot more happening up on that stage than can be conveyed by just the audio, and certainly Hula were known for using different kinds of media in their live performances.  There’s definitely some intensity here, though the B side gets a bit funky as well.  The recording quality is surprisingly good for this genre and period – you could just as easily assume this was studio work if it wasn’t for the occasional applause.  The second record is a combo of various studio sessions, and while no less experimental than the live stuff it is more polished and produced, which is to be expected.  The C side incorporates elements of funk and tribal beats to great effect, while the D side slows things down, especially on “Bribery and Winning Ways”.  1000 Hours is like hearing three completely different bands, and all of them are excellent.

(♠)  I just about choked on my soda when I wrote that.  Life in the Vinyl Lane began because I was talking to my buddy Tristen (technically Skyping) and we both were interested in starting blogs.  So we both did pretty much right then and there.  While his running blog is gone (which is too bad because he’s funny as hell), this is post #1,776 on Life in the Vinyl Lane.  And if you’re an American 1776 is a special number, because it’s the year our founding fathers wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence.  So maybe I still have more writing in my future after all…

Coil – “Panic” (1985)

coilpanicThere are three songs on this 12″ from Coil, and all three bring something different to the party.  “Aqua Regis” is the stuff nightmares are made from, and industrial horror show from the deepest recesses of the most primitive parts of the brain.  I mean, just look at the cover of this thing – if that image isn’t nightmare fuel, I don’t know what is.  However, “Panic” is some great industrial dance, metallic beats and more structured than its predecessor, though the vocal interlude is creepy as hell (and it sort of sounds like they sampled some Led Zeppelin era Robert Plant with some of the moaning).  The B side is given over to an industrial cover of “Tainted Love” that will peel the paint off your soul, if you have one.  Even played at 45 rpm you’re left thinking, “wait, is the speed too slow?”  It’s not.  It feels like something being sung by a homicidal stalker.  Meaning it’s pretty great.