“Northern Lights Playhouse” Compilation

I figured since my last two posts were about Icelandic compilation albums I should just keep that train rolling and spin the last of the comps we brought back from our recent trip.  My own Icelandic vinyl great white whale.  Northern Lights Playhouse.

Now, back when I made the somewhat ridiculous decision to get back into vinyl, I knew I wanted to take advantage of our international travel to hit record stores in far-flung places and pick up discs by local bands I’d never heard of before.  So with that in mind, before our trip to Iceland for Airwaves in 2011 I did a bunch of research online and came up with a list of old school Icelandic punk and new wave bands to look for.  I trotted down to Lucky Records with my list, and that visit yielded not only a healthy stack of records but also sparked a friendship with my buddies Ingvar and Gestur.

One of the records on my list back then was the Northern Lights Playhouse compilation.  Released in 1981, it included some of the earliest and most influential punk and new wave bands of the time – ÞeyrUtangarðsmenn, Purrkur PillnikkFræbbblarnir, and oddly Iceland’s own Bob Dylan, Megas (also included is a band called Taugadeildin who I literally will be hearing for the first time in a matter of moments when the song currently playing ends and they kick in).  This had all the bands I’d read about and was right up there with Rokk Í Reykjavík.  Lucky didn’t have either during that 2011 visit, nor again when we went back for Airwaves in 2012… but I did find a nice copy of Rokk Í Reykjavík at the flea market which I quickly scooped up as I high-fived myself in the aisle like a total dork.

But Northern Lights Playhouse continued to elude me.  On our third trip to Reykjavik following my foray back into vinyl I hit up all the local shops again, and still no Northern Lights Playhouse.  I was beginning to think it was just another Nordic myth like valkyrie or that fermented shark meat makes suitable food.  But then I made my last record store stop at a small shop called Geislandiskabud Valda.  I didn’t find anything that really excited me, but figured I’d pick up at least one local oldie that looked interesting because if for no other reason it’s a good way to strike up a conversation with the guy running the store.  And lo and behold… he has some “good stuff” behind the counter if I was interested (I was).  And it was good stuff… though I had everything in that small stack… everything that is except this copy of Northern Lights Playhouse!  Turns out it wasn’t a myth after all.

Technically speaking there are 17 songs on this album, which seems like a lot at first blush.  But… our friends Purrkur Pillnikk contribute the first 10 songs of side B, which range from 30 seconds to 1:50, so that certainly allows you to cram more tracks onto one LP.  That being said, this is a great mix of post-punk and new wave tunes by the bands that ruled the local scene at the time.  Turns out this was never released on CD and it’s actually a pretty rare record, so chances are if you find it, it’ll cost you.  Realistically if this period in Iceland music interests you, you’d be much better served by picking up Rokk Í Reykjavík – it’s a double album, and while it’s more expensive on vinyl, you can get it on CD for a pretty reasonable $20-25.  But if you’re a vinyl junkie like me, you’ll have to buy it.  If you can find it.  Just call me Ishmael.

Mamma Var Rússi – “Draugar” EP

After a slight detour to write about Record Store Day 2013 and the re-release of Mad Season’s Above, I’m back to powering through the 30+ records I brought back from our recent trip to Reykjavik.  Mamma Var Rússi’s Draugar (Ghosts in English) was another pick up from the collection of Iceland’s own Dr. Gunni… and since the first two records I wrote about upon my return came from his collection, I figured I’d keep going in that direction.

Mamma Var Rússi was a side project of Icelandic punk legends Fræbbblarnir, and Draugar was their only output as near as I can tell.  Released in 1986, it’s described as a mini-album though I’ve never understood how that differs from an EP.  It’s a 12″ played at 45 rpm, and its seven songs run a little over 20 minutes… so call it whatever you want.  Stylistically it’s kinda sorta quasi punk, maybe more post-punk, for whatever that’s worth.  Side A is more on the punkish side, while on side B you’ve got songs that sound like martial music (“Við Rakaðan Spámanninn”), and others that incorporate strings (“Fjall”), and finally the one English language track, the slowed down old school punk sounding “Anarchy for (Almost) Everyone”.

There isn’t much here that gets my juices flowing, but to be fair Draugar has a cool sound especially if you’re a fan of 1980s stuff in general, which I am.  Or if you’re a completely nutball like me who spends way too much time being interested in the Icelandic punk scene, even though I’m not Icelandic and I basically “missed” the whole punk thing in the late 1970s and 80s (which could be the subject of an entirely separate, deep, Freudian post sometime in the future).  The opening track “Innlent Nafn (“National Name” according to Google Translate) is probably the strongest on the album, and one I’d certainly consider putting on a compilation of Icelandic punk/new wave.  Maybe I’ll do that at some point, or at least come up with a track list for what one would look like.  But don’t hold me to it.  I still have a ton of records to get through…

Fræbbblarnir – “Poppþéttar Melódíur Í Rokkréttu Samhengi”

OK, so you may be thinking to yourself, “Dude, what gives with all the Icelandic band posts lately?”  Fair question.  Truth is we’re headed back to Reykjavik shortly for a quick five day visit, and I’m excited as hell about the thought of all the record shopping I’m going to do while Holly and her mom are out looking at shoes.  My friends at Lucky Records already have a half dozen albums on hold for me, and I can’t wait to dig through the selection at their new, bigger location.

Fræbbblarnir was on my want list last year, and I was surprised to run across this album at the local flea market.  Before you get too excited for me about my rare flea market find, trust me when I tell you that this guy knew exactly what he had and I paid accordingly.  It was actually a great score for me – I got this, Rokk Í Reykjavík, and the Tappi Tikarrass album Miranda, three heavyweight Icelandic vinyl classics, so don’t cry for me Argentina.  My copy has a lot of pops and clicks, but hey, it’s vinyl.  And it isn’t available on CD.

Poppþéttar Melódíur Í Rokkréttu Samhengi is that wacky style of Icelandic punk as it moved towards new wave.  Released in 1982, it still has that punk pacing, some driving guitars, and some of the very stilted sounding punk vocals, but there are some synth sounds and effect pedals being used as well.  It’s sort of how the Ramones might have sounded if they had been heavily influenced by Devo.

A surprising number of the songs are in English – seven of the 15 tracks.  Obviously I don’t know much about the Icelandic lyrics, but some of the English stuff is odd to say the least.

And he’s pretty sure,
feels like Roger Moore,
shots are fired constantly,
and nothing can disturb his work.

Climbing up on Korski’s couch was pretty tough for dwarfs.
Those who made it felt no pain as bullets broke their skulls.
The others fell down to be crushed.
— “Rebellion of the Dwarfs”

Wait, what?  What???

OK, so songs apparently about killing dwarfs aside, much of the rest of the English language lyrics are more or less standard early punk fare.   The album has a lot of energy, carrying a frenetic pace through a lot of the songs.  If you’re a fan of post-punk and early new wave, you’ll probably dig the sound.