S.H. Draumur – “Bless” (1988)

I had my hands on a copy of Bless last November at Lucky Records when we were visiting Reykjavik, but somehow I convinced myself that I already had it.  Needless to say when I got home and realized my mistake, I was pissed.  Pissed enough to make it a point of immediately finding a copy online and buying it.  That’ll show me (there’s nothing like getting back at yourself!).

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The infamous Dr. Gunni was the driving force behind S.H. Draumur, releasing material under that moniker during much of the 1980s, with 1988s Bless ending their run of new material (compilations followed in 1993 and 2010).  There are two different vinyl versions of Bless listed on Discogs, both released in Iceland in 1988 – a three song version, and a four song version (“Dýr Á Braut” is the additional tune).  Images of the front covers of the two versions show the three song copy with an “E 21” at the bottom right of the front cover, which is missing from the longer version.  It is also indicated that only the Erðanúmúsik label is associated with the three tracker, while the four tracker lists both that label and another Icelandic label, Gramm.  I wanted to get to the bottom of this so I went right to the source – Dr. Gunni himself.  According to the good doctor, the record only exists in a four song version.  Unfortunately there aren’t any photos of the jacket  reverse or center labels of the alleged three song version to offer any additional clarity.  So, much like the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and gin that actually tastes good, this three song version will remain a sort of myth, something said to exist but probably not real.

Musically Bless fits in with Gunni’s overall style – raw rock with doses of psych and even a little rockabilly.  Gunni’s vocals are higher pitched than you’d expect, sometimes even going into a falsetto, other times a shrill wail.  The music has an energy to it, played with both abandon and urgency, much like the other S.H. Draumur material I’ve heard over the years.  I’m glad I was able to find it online and didn’t have to wait another 10 months to get back to Iceland to buy a copy.

Bless – “Melting” (1989)

For the first time in quite a while I don’t have any records sitting on the “stuff I bought and haven’t listened to yet” shelf.  Well, that’s not entirely accurate – there are currently three records there.  Two of them need to get cleaned before I’ll play them… but I’m too lazy to go through all the time and trouble without a few more records to clean at the same time.  The other is a 12″ that I’ve had for a while and have been waiting to write about in a joint post with another person, and we just haven’t been able to connect to get it done.  This lack of records staring at me and begging to be played is both a relief, since I don’t feel the weird OCD pressure of having things I “need to listen to,” but also a bit of a downer because it means I don’t have anything new and exciting lined up.

Fortunately I have hundreds (rapidly approaching a thousand) records on the shelves, and it took me all of a minute to put my grubby paws on something I haven’t listened to in a while and never wrote about, the Melting EP by the Icelandic band Bless.  I have written about Bless before – they were fronted by none other than the esteemed Icelandic musical historian and all around good guy Dr. Gunni, a guy who I’ve bought a number of records from over the last few years.  Gunni’s projects tend to be interesting in a garage-psych-weirdness kind of way, which is just what the doctor ordered for a Saturday morning.

We were watching a 2005 documentary about Icelandic music last night called Screaming Masterpiece, and while it was a hit-or-miss affair, there was an interesting moment when the filmmakers asked a musician (whose name I didn’t catch) what makes the Icelandic music scene so unique.  His response was very simple – basically no one expects to sell many records because the country is so small, so people just make what they want.  There’s no pressure to write hits or follow the mainstream.  In my experience there’s a lot of truth to that simple sentiment.  And Dr. Gunni is one of those musicians who just makes the music he wants to make.

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Melting‘s seven songs only run a little more than 16 minutes total.  Stylistically it’s difficult to describe – it’s a bit indie, some psych, more than a little post-punkish, a cacophony of sound capped off with Gunni’s often high pitched signing voice.  Who can I compare Bless too?  I mentioned Half Japanese in a previous post about their LP Bless, and that still seems legit.  Maybe some elements of Southern Death Cult, some Iggy Pop, and even a touch of Smashing Pumpkins?  The good news is that it’s hard to compare Bless to other bands, meaning it’s got unique qualities.  Gunni and the boys keep it extremely raw and edgy, giving the songs a nearly out-of-control quality that separates them from the pack.

“Nothing Ever Happens In My Head” is the most approachable, prototypically rock song on Melting, though it’s still got plenty of that Dr. Gunni style to it.  “Akkerið Mitt / My Anchor” is a bit on the heavy side, a bit more structured and driving with the drums and bass while the guitar conducts an acid-psych attack on your brain.  All in all it’s a super cool record, and though relatively hard to find will certainly be a welcome addition to your collection.

Bless – “Gums”

I’m not sure why I never got around to writing about this record before.  I’ve had it for a while – I think it was part of the first batch of records I ever bought from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, back when they were crammed into their tiny original store.  My guess is I listened to it once and never got back to it.  I’m not sure what prompted me to put it on today, other than that I’d just been playing some Tappi Tíkarrass and so happened to be perusing my Icelandic vinyl shelf.  And much to my surprise, who’s voice did I hear coming out of my speakers on the very first song?  Björk’s.  Which was a surprise, because Bless was not one of her bands.

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In fact the front man of Bless is none other than Dr. Gunni, he of S.H. Draumur and a man who I’ve met and actually bought records from, and a number of his friends appear on Gums.  In addition to Björk contributing vocals to “Worlds Collapse” and “Yonder,” her Sugarcubes bandmate and current Ghostigital frontman Einar Örn playse some trumpet on “You Are My Radiator” and none other than Óttarr Proppé of HAM and Dr. Spock fame appears on “Spidergod” (as the Spidergod himself).  It’s a veritable collection of Icelandic all-stars from the period when it was released (1990).  The lyrical content is all over the place, and certainly a bit odd – song titles include “The Shovel Of Love,” (burying a girl in a sandbox…) “Night Of Cheese,” (eating cheese and a bad relationship) and “The Killfuckman,” (murder, and possibly cannibalism) so you know it’s going to be different.

Musically Gums is an interesting record that’s hard to genre-fy.  It’s rock… but it doesn’t neatly fit into any of the normal subgenres.  Maybe I should just describe it as “indie” and leave it at that.  If there’s one band that Gums reminds me of, it would be Half Japanese, but Bless are much more talented musicians and Gunni, even with his unique delivery, is a better singer than Jad Fair.  But there are some similarities, including the often bizarre lyrics.

I need to give this one a few more spins.  There’s a lot here to like.  Just watch out for the killfuckman, or he’ll get ya.

“World Domination or Death, Vol. 1” Compilation

I’m back on the compilation train!

I ran across this at the flea market in Reykjavik last month, and it’s a cool mix put out by Icelandic label Bad Taste Records. Einar Örn of Purrkur Pillnikk, Ghostigital, and The Sugarcubes fame was one of the driving forces in founding the label in 1986, and his reputation in the local music community ensured they’d be able to sign the cream of the Icelandic crop.  And that’s evident by the bands who appear on World Domination or Death, Vol. 1 (1990), which is made up of two songs each by Reptile, Bless, HAM, and Bootlegs, and singles for The Sugarcubes and Oxtor.

We do not know what Bad Taste is.
Therefore we present to you
another taste in Icelandic Music.
World Domination or Death.
Know what I mean gringo.
— From back album jacket

This is an interesting combination of bands.  On side A you’ve got Reptile, a band I haven’t reviewed here on the blog previously but will likely get to in short order since I have a couple of their records on my shelves, and who sound almost like a crazy Japanese pop band from the 1980s. Next up is Bless, one of the projects of the infamous Dr. Gunni, a prolific musician and top notch music historian who I was lucky enough to meet in person on the same trip that got me this record, who play a sort of early Cult style of rock.  Then we get to HAM.  We are HAM!  The masters of Icelandic doom metal… who on this album cover Abba’s “Voulez Vous”.  Nuf said.  The Bootlegs then kick in and take the metal to the next level, playing a solid thrash style that speaks to fans of early Metallica like me.  And finally The Sugarcubes who, let’s be honest, don’t require an introduction.  The reverse side has the same five bands with the exception of The Sugarcubes, who are replaced by Oxtar and a sort of rockabilly tune called “Kontinental”.

The vinyl also contains some super-secret messages engraved into the runout grooves:

“We’re in charge.  If that’s OK with you.” – Side A
“We will rule.  Give or take an inch.” – Side B

World Domination or Death, Vol. 1 is one of the better Icelandic comps out there – while there are only six bands here, all of them are good and many were pretty important parts of the scene.  Too bad there were no other volumes put out, as near as I can tell, but this one is definitely worth picking up on vinyl or CD.