Dead Skeletons – “Om Mani Peme Hung” (2011)

deadskeletonsblueWhat happens when an artist fascinated with death forms a band with members of Singapore Sling and The Brian Jonestown Massacre?  Well, you get some seriously trippy stuff, my friend.  What you get is Dead Skeletons.

I always have my eyes open for Dead Skeleton releases because they don’t show up for sale too often.  I enjoyed Dead Mantra (2010), Dead Comet (2013) and Live in Berlin (2016), so it wasn’t much of a stretch to plunk down my money for a copy of the 2011 Om Mani Peme Hung 7″ the other day over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  I even mentioned it to band member and artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson when I visited his gallery during Airwaves, and he seemed surprised that I’d been able to find a copy locally.  Some of Jón’s art includes screen-printing using records as the canvas, and I picked up another of these during that visit to hang alongside the two I bought on previous trips.

But back to Om Mani Peme Hung.  It’s exactly what you’d expect – a psych-trip wall of sound with some Eastern influences and an almost religious-trance-inducing vibe.  Neither song lets up – they just keep coming at you, relentlessly, pulsing their ways into your brain. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but if you like some hard psych you’ll definitely enjoy Dead Skeletons.

Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Reflections

We’re back home from Iceland Airwaves.  The laundry is done, the records have been cleaned and put into sleeves, and I’m a couple of days into Kókómjólk withdrawal.  It was a bit more of a chill festival for us this year – after eight years of going to Reykjavik to gorge on music we don’t feel as obsessed with going out all day every day and seeing as many bands as possible, instead taking a bit more time to enjoy being with our friends in the city.  I think the final tally this year for me was around 30 shows attended, compared to 41 last year.

The quality of the performances continues to improve year after year, which is great but can also make it hard to choose who to go see.  However, a number of the more established Icelandic bands didn’t play this year (I’m looking at you, Gusgus… Legend… Skálmöld…), and some of those who did seemed to have limited schedules.  If anything Airwaves ’16 seemed to be set up more for the little guy, which in many ways is a good thing.  The off venue schedule has now reached the point where it’s almost impossible to grasp who is playing where and at what time, and with the rise of KEX Hostel as a legitimately good space it seems to me that you could very easily come to Airwaves in 2017 without a festival pass and still see tons and tons of amazing music all day and all night.

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious if you follow the blog that I’m kind of a music nut, so it’s probably not surprising that I came home with an overflowing record bag.  Including the stuff I picked up in Stockholm in the days leading up to Airwaves I came home with something like 40 records, a dozen or so CDs, and another dozen cassettes (I upped my cassette game this year!).  Most of my purchases came from Lucky Records and Reykjavik Record Shop, plus some cool stuff I picked up over at Stockholm’s Trash Palace.  Going back to those haunts is like going back home, and while I didn’t bring back any super rarities (I almost pulled the trigger on a copy of Sororicide’s The Entity, but I just couldn’t do it) I’m pretty pleased with the stack of vinyl  and plastic on my “To Listen To” shelf right now.  I have enough material to carry the blog well into next year.

Without further ado, here’s my “Best of Airwaves” 2016 edition.

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Best Venue:  Last year I gushed about the return of NASA, but this year I somehow managed to not step foot in its doors for the entire festival.  The same was true for Gaukurinn and Gamla Bíó.  In fact the bulk of our on venue shows were at Harpa and Húrra, with only one quick check-in at Iðnó.  So knowing that you’d probably think that one of those two would win Best Venue.  But you’d be wrong – it was actually KEX Hostel.  KEXP radio hosts shows there throughout the festival and since they’re broadcasting live you know they’re going to take the time to make sure the sound is great.  Plus as an added bonus this year they built a small riser for the bands to play on – so instead of being at floor level like the have been in the past, now they’re raised maybe a foot or so which makes a huge difference for the folks watching from the back of the room.  We saw four shows and a couple of DJ sets here and all of them sounded great.  Plus the pulled pork sandwich is delicious.

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Best New-To-Me Band:  This one just keeps getting tougher every single year, but ultimately I was able to narrow it down to two bands fairly quickly.  The runner up is Hórmónar who played a blistering set at Húrra on Thursday night, rocking out and bringing a ton of energy to the room.  But my favorite was Dream Wife who despite playing one of the larger rooms at Harpa made the experience feel like you were seeing them in a small club. I referred to them as pop-punk in a previous post, but don’t let fool you into thinking that Dream Wife aren’t real punk, because they absolutely are.  They were the only band I saw this year that made me immediately think to myself, “I have to go find one of their albums tomorrow”.

Best Show:  This one wasn’t too tough for me, because the band I was most looking forward to seeing at Airwaves delivered.  I speak, of course, of the good doktor, the sonic surgeon who will destroy your mind and leave your ears bleeding, Dr. Spock (below).  Húrra is a small club – I’m guessing the main floor excluding the bar area might hold 150 people, if that, and it was slam packed.  The mosh pit was intense but well-mannered and Dr. Spock delivered exactly what the fans wanted.  I’m not sure how their other shows went, but this will probably go down as the most intense show we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  They closed it with “Sons of Ecuador” and tore the place down.

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Coolest Music Purchases:  In years past this has been “Best Record Shopping Experience,” but at this point I may as well retire that as Lucky gets it every year.  As mentioned previously, I came home with a ton of music, but there are two items that particularly stick out.  The first is a copy of the Dead SkeletonsOm Mani Peme Hung 7″, which is pretty tough to find especially here in the US.  The other are the two cassettes put out by the Icelandic Punk Museum, one of which is a “Best Of” of early Icelandic punk while the other includes previously unreleased and live material.  These were 3.000 ISK each or the pair for 5.000 ISK (about $45 US) and they come with download cards.  I’m really excited to check these out, so look for them soon on the blog.

Biggest Regret:  My biggest musical regret was not catching Agent Fresco on the festival’s last night.  I caught a cold on Saturday, and by Sunday afternoon I was pretty much dead on my feet.  I made it through the first two bands on the on venue schedule, but didn’t have the energy to last long enough to catch Fresco.  We’ve seen them plenty of times in the past, though, so it only stings a little.

We had a great time at Iceland Airwaves ’16, catching up with old friends and making some new ones along the way.  It’s amazing to look back over the past eight years and see how what was once a pretty small festival has blossomed (some might argue ballooned) into a serious international event.  Tons of bands come to town solely to play off venue gigs and there’s music playing just about everywhere you go.  Do I kind of miss the old days?  Sure.  Things seemed a bit simpler to wrap your arms around back in 2009 when there were no “headliners” and you didn’t have a massive music palace like Harpa.  But the quality of bands has improved dramatically, and you never know when you’re going to discover something truly great that blows you away.  And that’s what it’s all about.

Someday I suppose we’ll stop going to Airwaves.  But that someday won’t be in 2017.  Just 51 more weeks to go, and Icelandair packages go on sale before the end of the month…

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Dead Skeletons – “Live In Berlin” (2016)

So good.

I was stoked to hear that the Icelandic psych band Dead Skeletons had new vinyl release coming out this year, even more so because it’s a live album.  We’ve been fans of artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson for years, and I even have a few of his screened prints done on records hanging on my walls.  His musical project, Dead Skeletons, is some trippy-ass psych and pretty damn awesome, so I made sure to pre-order Live In Berlin.

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Released by Fuzz Club, there are multiple versions of this on vinyl.  It’s a three-sided double album, the fourth side being a screen print of the band.  I can’t unravel all the different versions… sounds like there’s a white splatter edition of 1,000, a black with yellow splatter edition of 300 (hand numbered on the reverse… this is the one I have), and a hyper-limited black release in an edition of 10.  It’s all very complicated.  I can’t even keep track of all these random editions.

Regardless of the complicated nature of Live In Berlin, it’s pretty fantastic.  In fact, it’s some pretty heavy, deep psych, a la Singapore Sling or something.  Some Joy Division here too, maybe a touch of Mallevs.  It just sounds good, man.  Heavy and rich and deep and trippy.  You can check out the whole thing live HERE, and if you ever find yourself in Reykjavik, do yourself a favor and track down Auðarson’s gallery HERE.  You might just come home with some cool stuff.

Dead Skeletons – “Dead Mantra” 10″

Dead Skeletons is an intriguing band to me, both due to its sound and the intersection between musical and physical art.  We visited artist and Dead Skeletons member Jón Sæmundur Auðarson’s DEAD Gallery in Reykjavik last year and were captivated by his art – and not just his screen-printed 12″ and 7″ records.  While there we picked up the two-song 12″ Dead Comet, a one-sided record that features a screened image on the B side.  Since then I’ve kept my eyes open for other Dead Skeletons records, so I was interested when I came across this 10″ single for “Dead Mantra” on eBay.  I won’t lie – the price was a bit high, but after a couple of glasses of wine it wasn’t too hard to convince myself to click the “Buy It Now” button.

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Like the Dead Comet 12″, this record is also one-sided, though in this case with an engraved B side.  I have a few other records with engraved/etched B sides as well, most notably Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Smoking Acid and Devo’s Now It Can Be Told, but in those cases the etching feels more like an after thought, like they didn’t have enough music to fill up the other side, while on Dead Skeletons record it seems very intentional.  To me the Dead Skeletons experience moves beyond just the music, and it includes the physical details that Auðarson incorporates onto the record and jacket as well.

Musically “Dead Mantra” is as advertised – it’s very much a mantra.  It has a droning quality, especially to the vocals, which are deep and have a very pronounced cadence.  The music has a repetitive rawness about it that fits in with the overall vibe.  It’s powerful, it’s driving, it’s coming at you like an unending desert caravan.  Even when the vocals switch from male to female, the effect remains the same.  According to the interwebs the vocal mantra translates to “He who fears death cannot enjoy life,” which I certainly can agree with.

It’s powerful music that comes from a very elemental place.  Probably not for “casual” listening, but if you’re in the right zone it packs a punch.

Art and Music

graffrootsHolly and I decided to play tourist in our own city today and headed to downtown Seattle.  We ended up at the famous Pike Place Market to shoot pictures, and while there we came across a little stall being run by an artist named Asher who does small, graffiti-style canvases of some of the more influential pop culture touch points from his life, much of which revolves around movies and music.  His stuff is killer and I could resist buying a cool little 5″ X 7″ canvas called “The DeeJay” ($25) to display on my record cabinet.  He’s got an Etsy page where he sells his stuff under the name “Graffroots” – definitely worth checking out if you’re into movies and/or hip hop (or just cool art).

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Asher got me thinking about the intersection of physical art and music.  Over the last four months or so I’ve broadened my record collecting to include some record related art as well.  In November we visited DEAD Gallery in Reykjavik and met artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson who does some amazing, albeit dark, stuff – lots of skulls and ravens.  He’s also in a quasi-psych band called Dead Skeletons and has produced a series of screen prints done on old records – something he also sometimes does on the B sides of his own releases.  I brought two of these home (example shown here) and they’re awesome.  I only wish I could have convinced him to part with one or two of them that he did on 7″ singles, but those weren’t for sale.

Auðarson certainly isn’t the only person putting his art on old records.  A few weeks ago we were having lunch at a cafe/bar in Seattle’s Madison Park neighborhood and what did I see on the walls there but art for sale, including a series of paintings done on 12″ records.  These were all drink/cocktail related, while images on black vinyl, and at the bargain price of $10 each I couldn’t help but buy one with a stylized white coffee cup on it.  And today we saw another guy who had airbrushings/paintings done on vinyl.  I almost pulled the trigger on one of Bob Marley… I’ll probably regret not having bought it, because it was cool as hell.

Of course there’s more – record jackets with actual original art work on them, painted cassettes and cassette boxes, actual drawings inserted into record jackets.  Hell, Holly has a necklace that is basically a chain with a colored headphone jack on it.  For some reason I’m fascinated by this concept of using a non-musical art form in a way that sort of involves music, or at the very least the materials involved in music.