Skepna – “Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku” (2019)

skepnadagarSkepna got a lot of people excited with their rocking debut in 2013 and garnered a lot of solid press for their live performances at Airwaves and Eistnaflug, but then seem to have gone radio silent for a bit.  But all good things to those who wait, and last month the trio treated us to a new album, the hard-driving Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku.  Skepna are back, and they’re as good as they ever were, if not maybe even a bit better.

All three Skepna members have impressive rock credentials.  Bassist Hördur Ingi Stefànsson played with one of my all-time favorite Icelandic rock outfits Brain Police.  Drummer Björn Stefánsson was part of the powerhouse Mínus.  And Hallur Ingólfsson?  Oh, he just played in a couple of OK bands like XIII and, you know, HAM.  No biggie.  Just a handful of the best hard rocking bands to ever come out of Iceland.  I figure I probably have something like 15 albums on my shelves that these guys have played on over the years.

Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku doesn’t try to do anything fancy.  It just rocks your face off.  How can three guys get such a full sound (check out “Rautt”)?  “Biturt Blóð” is the most intriguing song to my ears, one that captures the strengths of the members’ respective former bands – the heavy psych of Brain Policy, the edginess of Mínus, a dose of HAM doomishness, and the polish of XIII all compressed into a diamond-hard track of riffs.  My other favorite is “Kjarval”, a sonic jackhammer, relentless with a tricky bass line adding character to the track and giving the whirlwind of the sonics something to circle.  Everyone gets their space to explore and shine, but I want to give an extra shout-out to Stefànsson’s bass work.  He’s not confined to keeping pace with the drums but instead given room to roam, and he takes full advantage.  Often it’s difficult to pick out the bass on a hard rock record, but that’s not the case on Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku – it’s always right where it needs to be, sometimes supporting, sometimes out front leading the way.

I’m not sure about the press run on the vinyl – mine is on red, and that’s about all I can tell you.  There’s a free download included on a sticker affixed to the bottom corner of the inner sleeve, so if you’re looking for a loose card inside you might miss it.  Definitely recommended.

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 3

There are lots of reasons people come to Iceland Airwaves.  For some it’s a convenient “excuse” to get to Iceland and experience both the incredible natural beauty of one of the last truly unspoiled places on earth while also getting to see some cool music.  For others it’s a chance to party like it’s 1999 and soak in (and soak up) Reykjavik’s notorious evening party scene.  And some of us are here chasing the dragon.  Going to shows and secretly hoping for that next “high”, that next experience with some band you’ve never heard of who totally and completely blows your mind and makes you fall in love with them, like a junkie trying to recapture that first big hit.  That experience seems to become more and more rare over time, but if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone you might capture it, and if you do you’ll remember what life is all about.  “…if you try sometimes, you’ll find… you get what you need…”  I got what I needed last night.

But before we get to that, was saw lots of other great bands yesterday.  First we hit a few off-venue shows at the Nordic House, which has a small room seating maybe 50-70 people and fantastic acoustics.  There we saw an impressive young band from Denmark called Shiny Darkly who channeled the long-dead spirt of Warsaw in impressive fashion.  We liked ’em enough we’re going to try to catch them again on Sunday at their Lucky Records in-store, and I can promise a full post on them sometime soon since I bought a copy of their brand new vinyl EP (the second copy ever sold apparently, since someone else got to them just before I did… doh!).  I will be keeping an eye on them.  Halleluwah followed with a nice, short four-song set that was, I believe, all new material.

From there it was off to Harpa to see an off-venue show by Singapore Sling that sort of spilled out of the 12 Tonar record store.  Unfortunately the gear didn’t seem set up too well – it was way too loud to the point of distortion, and you could barely hear the singing at all.  Turns out they sounded way better from inside the venue’s downstairs bathroom (true story); maybe they should have moved everyone down there to listen.  It doesn’t always need to be turned up to 11 to be good.  We then headed out to a bar called Dillon in hopes of catching Brain Police, but it was so packed we couldn’t even make it to the top of the stairs to reach the room… so back to Harpa for the on-venue program.

Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band is exactly as advertised – this band is BIG.  Like 18 performers big.  They play a fun style of Afro-funk fusion with horns and guitars and bongos and just about anything else you can imagine and are a wonderfully enjoyable live experience (we saw them a few years ago as well).  I picked up their new double album on vinyl and can only hope it captures their live energy.  Valdimar was up next with a sort of folk rock style that was pretty good, and certainly enjoyable.

That brought us to American ex-pat and now Iceland resident John Grant.  Grant was given a longer than normal time slot (a full hour) and he’s the toast of the town, so we figured it would be packed – and it was almost beyond packed, really.  Our best guess is about 1,500+ people crammed into that room to see him, and they didn’t leave disappointed.  I wasn’t familiar with his music, but was captivated by his lyrics – Grant comes across like he’s having a conversation with you more than singing to you.  His lyrics are either the most deeply honest and personal I’ve heard in a long time, or he’s totally full of it.  I’m not 100% sure which is which, but I’m thinking the former.  Lots of songs about frustration and lost loves and ego and pain.

And that, my friends, brings us to that dragon I’ve been chasing.  He came to me from an unexpected place – Syria.  Yes, that Syria.  The one that’s been in the news due to the ongoing unpleasantness.  He’s a 40-something pop singer named Omar Souleyman and within 30 seconds of hitting the stage he owned the 1,000+ person crowd at Harpa.  Souleyman’s brand of electronic dance pop is infectious – there are some typical dance beats in the background, but mixed with very Eastern sounds and instruments all capably put together by the guy running his electronics and keyboard.  And Souleyman himself… despite speaking three words of English/Icelandic the entire set (“hello” and “thank you”) he had the crowd dancing at full throttle, making him his playthings and getting them to clap or raise their hands at will.  There was dancing.  There was crowd surfing.  A bunch of coins made it out of my pants pockets and ended up on the floor because even I was dancing.  And someone puked all over a garbage can.  Afterwards the room smelled of spilled beer and body odor.  It was unquestionably one of my Top 3 all-time Airwaves shows… and may actually be in a first place tie with FM Belfast at NASA a few years back.

This is why we work.  So we can save up some money and chase these incredible life experiences, like totally losing yourself in some Syrian electro-pop with a thousand of your new friends, dancing into the night.  It’s the journey that matters.

Brain Police – “Electric Fungus”

I don’t play Electric Fungus very often, but every time I do I’m shocked at how damn good it is and can’t figure out why it never seems to make it into regular rotation on my iPod.

I have to confess that I’m reviewing a CD here, not vinyl.  I know, the blog is called “Life in the Vinyl Lane” and all that, but it’s really all about the music.  And let’s be real – a lot of stuff never came out on vinyl, and I won’t let that stop me from listening to it.  Electric Fungus was a recommendation from our last visit to Reykjavik’s Lucky Records back in April (and I can’t wait to go back there again in October!) – my man Gestur put it in my hand and basically told me I had to buy it.  He looked like he meant business, and I’m not one to argue with anything that Gestur and Ingvar recommend, so into the ever growing stack of CDs (which was on top of a gy-normous stack of records) it went.  And I must say, Gestur hit it out of the park with this one.

Brain Police is a four piece from Iceland who’s sound reminds me a hell of a lot of Clutch – heavy bass and tuned down guitar, sharp and precise playing that every now and again gets a little sloppy… but you know the sloppiness is intentional and it always comes in at just the perfect spots.  Released in 2004 (if you look it up on Discogs you’ll only find the 2008 American re-release listed – my copy is the 2004 Iceland version), Electric Fungus  is sometimes described as “stoner rock,” and I suppose that’s as good a genre as any.  It’s tuned down, raspy, heavy, and kicks ass.  Plus as an added bonus for us non-Icelanders all their songs are sung in English so you can follow along.  The Icelandic version of the CD includes a DVD that has two pretty long (roughly an hour combined) behind the scenes home movies (in Icelandic… dammit!) as well as the video for “Coed Fever,” which is cool if you can find that version.

Electric Fungus opens with a full length instrumental track called “Stay Rock,” which frankly sounds like a lame idea until you actually hear the song – I guarantee you that you’ll find yourself rocking out to it.  It shouldn’t work, but it just does.  It’s slow and heavy and sort of wanders around a bit with a cool guitar lick thrown in here and there for good measure and always gets me psyched up for the rest of the album.  That’s immediately followed by what is probably the cleanest, most radio friendly song on the album, “Coed Fever,” which is what Nickelback would sound like if they were heavy (and I don’t mean that in a bad way).

The rest of the album maintains a solid rockin’ pace, with most songs having both great intros and outros (the last two minutes of “2113 (Sea Weed)” is a slowed down heavy psych instrumental).  My favorite track is probably “Undercover Through Your Mother” which opens with a heavy funk bass line and has the coolest sounding chorus (“We’re gonna turn back into night…“) on the album.  It’s sung slow, like trying to move through mud, like a 45 being played on 33.

Electric Fungus is a winner, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other Brain Police discs when we make it back to Iceland again.  It looks like at least one of their releases, Beyond the Wasteland, came out on vinyl, which would be an added bonus if I can track it down.  Brain Police.  Electric Fungus.  Check it out.