Schwund – “Technik Und Gefühl” (2019)

schwundtechnikI picked this up at Berlin’s Bis Auf Messer Records on our recent visit to Germany.  I can’t find a lot of info about Schwund online, and almost nothing at all in English.  I’ve seen them described as punk, post-punk, and experimental… based on what I hear on Technik Und Gefühl it’s more toward the experimental side of the spectrum, perhaps even going as far as to use the dreaded term avant-garde.  The songs have structure, but also tend to wander around, sometimes into unexpected territory.  The constant is the use of synths in retro and unusual ways – “Binär-Indianer” makes you feel like some kind of demented circus just pulled into town, while I wouldn’t be surprised if the underlying rhythm on “Gut Gefunden” was actually one of the presets that was on the old cheap Casio keyboard I owned in the 80s.

It appears the vinyl version of Technik Und Gefühl clocks in around 49 minutes and is limited to 200 copies.  However, there is also an even more limited cassette version (100 copies) that contains an additional 32 minutes of music.  Copies of each are available on the band’s Bandcamp page HERE.  If you only have time to check out a few tracks I recommend starting with “Taxi”, which is perhaps a bit less avant-garde than the rest of the album while also being its most fully realized song.

DJ Flugvél Og Geimskip – “Our Atlantis” (2019)

Steinunn Harðardóttir is an artist.  She makes music, she paints, and she is seemingly surrounded by a light golden aura of happiness that I swear I’ve seen regardless of whether she was on stage or in the crowd watching someone else perform.  Her music reflects this in the high, innocent pitch of her voice and the frequent appearances of cats and outer space in her lyrics.  In interviews she makes it clear that this happiness comes from viewing the world is absurd.  Which, of course, it is.  Most people are bummed out at a thought like that.  But not her.  That absurdity is a source of freedom.

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DJ Flugvél Og Geimskip live at Iceland Airwaves, 2014
Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane

Atlantis is a myth.  It was first mentioned in the works of Plato, written down almost 2,400 years ago.  There are those who believe Atlantis was more than simply a fictional utopia Plato used as a means of teaching his lesson, taking the position that the philosopher’s work is actually a piece of history and that Atlantis once existed back in the mists of time.  The theories believe the Atlantians to have been part of an advanced human pre-history or, in more recent years with the popularity of the UFO movement, space aliens.  Perhaps most importantly, though, the city serves as a source of inspiration for artists and unfortunately strip mall psychics, who for $20 will read your palm and tell you that you’re the reincarnation of a great Atlantian warrior.  I wonder if they had cats there…?

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Our Atlantis opens with “The Sphinx”, the early portions of the track transporting us to Egypt with Persian-influenced jazz, sitting in a dark bar that feels impossibly hot and humid, the scent of syrupy coffee and unfiltered cigarettes simply hanging just below the ceiling in bluish clouds before turning into mist that permeates everything.  Wait. That got strange quick.  Snap out of it, man.  As we progress the beats change, throwing off their warm deserty vibe and becoming cold and clinical, dance floor bangers, with Steinunn’s voice flying way overhead, like the clouds above the pulsing, roiling ocean.  The ocean that today covers Atlantis.  Or so the story goes.

Surprises are always waiting around the next corner whenever DJ Flugvél Og Geimskip is involved.  Like “Elsta lag í heimi”‘s highs and lows being invaded intermittently by a sic-fi midrange that pops in with the suddenness of the USS Enterprise dropping out of warp, only to disappear again just as quick.  Are these people who live in Atlantis aliens who arrived from space on a starship?  Or the scolding vocals on “Allt er bara bull” that rip you away from her soprano and drop you back into reality for a moment.  Am I in trouble?  Did I forget to take out the trash?  Did I forget to use the new cover sheet on my TPS report?  Oh, and I did I mention that the first song, the previously mentioned “The Sphinx”, was premiered by means of a video game that Steinunn made and posted for free on the internet?  You know the one.  The completely psychadelic bizarro-fest that finds you trying to find animals while fighting off enemies with your one means of a defense, a battle-axe made from a Pomeranian.  Wait, you haven’t played it yet??  Well, here you go.  And don’t say I didn’t warn you.  That Pomeranian can do some damage.

The second half of Our Atlantis is darker.  Is the city falling into decay, starting it’s slide to oblivion that will eventually find it at the bottom of the ocean?  “Atlantis” with it’s ever-changing and unpredictable flow makes us off-balanced, our footing not as solid as it was.  “Let’s Go!” kicks in and Steinunn is getting insistent – let’s go! – before dropping into a Metropolis-esque set of industrial beats, everything growing dark and dangerous, with lasers cutting through the air and leaving behind the scent of ozone, the complete anthesis of the aroma of that Egyptian bar we found ourselves in at the start of the album. But wait, what’s that I hear in the distance on “Our World Is Way Too Big”?  That Persian influence is back, not jazzy this time but more electric.  We close the side with “Apocalypse”.  Is that a harmonica I hear?  Of course it is.  I’m pretty sure one of the Four Horsemen (♠) plays the harmonica on his way to level your city and dump it under the Atlantic.

Experience tells me that DJ Flugvél Og Geimskip isn’t for everyone, but I can’t get enough of her music and live performances.  If you’re interested in giving her a chance, the vinyl is still available through the label HERE.  Who knows.  Maybe you’ll start to believe in Atlantis too…

(♠)  To clarify, I’m referring here to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations.  This is not to be confused with The Four Horsemen of professional wrestling fame, Ric Flair’s personal hit squad.

Daevid Allen – “Divided Alien Playbax 80” (1982)

daevidallenMost of the time I dig at Half Price Books I come away empty handed.  But every now and again there’s something interesting hidden in there among all the beat up Chicago and Gordon Lightfoot records.  Something that leaves you scratching your head and thinking, “how did that get here?”  One of those albums was this 1982 UK Daevid Allen release Divided Alien Playbax 80.  I bought it because it seemed weird.  I didn’t realize at the time that Allen was also part of Gong and New York Gong, not that that would have necessarily impacted my decision.  But these random connections both surprise and intrigue me.

Like New York Gong, Divided Alien Playbax 80 has a certain avant garde-ness to it, albeit in a different way, brining more synths, electronics, and tape looping to the recording.  Much of side A is given over to brief vignettes, the longest of which clocks in at just over two minutes.  The album is bookended with a pair of extended jams, opening with the eight minute “When” and closing with the nine minute “Smile”.  Much of it is instrumental and when there are vocals they tend to be something strange.  The whole thing is a bit hard to wrap your head around.  If I’m picking favorites I’d probably go with “Disguise” and “Bodegas”, the later of which sort of reminds me of my Argentinian friends Farmacia.

Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson – “OK Computer Music” (2019)

We don’t get a lot of snow in Seattle.  Some winters it doesn’t snow at all, and when it does we typically only get an inch or two.  Those paltry inches, however, are enough to shut down half the city for a day as we simply don’t have the infrastructure to handle it.

Last Sunday it started snowing in the afternoon, and by the time I got up on Monday morning there were five inches of the white stuff on my car with more still falling.  I think we topped out at around six inches at my house.  While the roads weren’t great, by Tuesday it was at least possible to get around.  But then came the news that we’d be getting more of it on Friday – four to eight inches worth.  That prompted the usual jokes in Seattle.  “Well I guess that means we’ll have somewhere between zero and 100 inches then”.  The weather here is notoriously difficult to predict, and we never let the forecasters forget it.

It showed for a bit yesterday but seemed to fade out in the evening.  I still wasn’t surprised, however, to wake up to find about six more inches of powder covering everything, a sheet of white outside my living room window, the tall pines with their branches hanging low under the weight of it.  Thankfully it’s Saturday so we have nowhere we need to be.  And since we have power that means I can make coffee, turn on the icicle Christmas lights we still have hanging in the living room, and bask in the quietness while I listen to OK Computer Music on low volume so as to not disturb the hibernating Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane.

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I just got my copy of OK Computer Music in the mail from Sigmarsson, a CD in a limited edition of 100 copies.  Last year I wrote about his works The Found Tapes (2016) and Abstract Art Automat (2018), as well as some of his work as part of Stilluppsteypa including last year’s Beach Jolanda.  The man is nothing if not prolific, both individually and as a collaborator.

OK Computer Music is composed as a single 47 minute track.  Within that composition are different segments that can be differentiated from one another.  Calling those segments songs seems like a bit of a misnomer, as they don’t adhere to any structural format or follow any set rules, at least not from an outside perspective.  The quieter passages are particularly enjoyable, painting a mood that seems to cover this dimly lit room in a gossamer layer of somberness, the occasional vocal sounds subdued like quiet chorus making its way to you from the other side of an old stone cathedral, electronic music that somehow also feels old.

Sigmarsson’s music certainly has abstract and experimental elements to it, and OK Computer Music is no exception.  Personally I find his work quite musical – it’s only in the way the various elements interact that things fall outside of the norm.  I suspect that for albums like this the listener’s personal experiences have just as strong if not stronger influence over their perceptions than do Sigmarsson’s own intentions.  Parts of OK Computer Music slide into the background as I listen, while others seem to leap out of the speakers and compel me to turn and look, as if somehow seeing the speakers will explain what is causing these sensations in my mind and body.  And I’d be willing to bet the passages that don’t capture me have the totally opposite effect on others, hence the sense that this is music that allows the listener to connect with it in their own way.  And that, my friends, is OK Computer Music‘s beautiful secret.

Blacklight Braille – “Electric Canticles of the Blacklight Braille” (1981)

So this is… um… wait, let me start over.

Electric Canticles of the Blacklight Braille is a lot like… well, kinda… OK, maybe not so much that but…

Look, this thing is weird, OK?

Blacklight Braille are a collective from Cincinnati, one that often records with somewhere around ten members.  Electric Canticles of the Blacklight Braille was their first album, one recorded not in a studio, but at the Sargent Tool and Manufacturing Company.  In addition to the typical suite of instruments and electronics, other instrumentation listed includes metal drill, metal saw, grinder, and claw hammer.  On the jacket reverse the band refer to themselves initially as “fringe rock”, but then go on to suggest that perhaps just “fringe” is more accurate.

On this last point I agree.

There are portions of this record that I flat-out dislike.  There are others that I find completely and absorbingly captivating (generally those without vocals).  It’s an insane collection and amalgamation of sounds and voices.  At times rock, at times avant garde, at times electro-industrial in the truest sense of the genre by combining electronics and actual industrial tools.

Bottom line is this is some strange stuff, and you’d be best served by experiencing it for yourself.  I think the below is one full side.  Enjoy, and good luck.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.