The Best of 2012

I figured I’d wrap up 2012 with a series of Top 5 lists to share the different ways I enjoyed music over the course of the last year, probably in part because I just finished re-reading Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity which, like the movie, has lots of Top 5 lists created by Rob, Dick, and Barry.  All of this is, of course, purely subjective… I don’t pretend to have been exposed to a broad array of music, so I’m sure there’s some amazing stuff out there that not only does not appear on my lists, but that I’ve never even heard of.  But such is life.  So with that…. on to the lists!

Top 5 New Releases in 2012

1.  Fearless – Legend
2.  Live at Gamla Bíó – Agent Fresco
3.  Division of Culture & Tourism – Ghostigital
4.  K2R – Halleluwah
5.  Börn Loka – Skálmöld

I feel like this list might seem a bit pretentious, since all these bands are from Iceland… and I am not.  However, with Iceland Airwaves being the biggest week each year on my calendar, and considering how many bands I saw there this year (36), it kind of makes sense.  Ironically the only one of these I have on vinyl is K2R, though I do have the limited edition vinyl release of Ghostigital on order.  And unintentionally this is a pretty good mix of genres – goth/electronic (Legend), alt (Agent Fresco), industrial (Ghostigital), hip hop (Halleluwah), and hard core metal (Skálmöld).

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands

1.  Legend (Iceland)
2.  Lama (Finland)
3.  Ghostland Observatory (Texas)
4.  Skálmöld (Iceland)
5.  Shabazz Palaces (Seattle)

Most of these bands, other than maybe Legend, are not new.  But they were new to me in 2012 – I’d never heard of them before.  I also had the opportunity to see all of them except Lama live over the course of the year, which certainly increased my interest and appreciation in them.  Check them out.  You won’t be disappointed.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Miranda – Tappi Tikarrass
2.  Rokk Í Reykjavík
3.  The Fourth Reich
– Þeyr
4.  Seattle Syndrome, Vols. 1-2
5.  Mistakes 7″ – Gruppo Sportivo

The top two on this list came from an unexpected source – the flea market in downtown Reykjavik.  I figured I was already done with all my vinyl buying when we walked in, but there was a seller with tons of vinyl including these hard to find gems.  They weren’t cheap, but both were on my short list of things I wanted to find while I was in Iceland, so I was happy to pay the price.  The Fourth Reich was a surprise find at Trash Palace in Stockholm.  The Seattle Syndrome records came to me a day apart, and from different sources, and are a great snapshot of the early 1980s Seattle music scene.  The Gruppo Sportivo 7″ I ran across in someone’s garage, and it sort of opened my mind to taking a chance on stuff that I wasn’t familiar with.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  Agent Fresco (acoustic) – Nordic House, Reykjavik
2.  Legend – Gamli Gaukurinn, Reykjavik
3.  Ghostigital – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  Devil Makes Three – Showbox Market, Seattle
5.  Ghostland Observatory – Showbox SODO, Seattle

I could have easily gone strictly with shows we saw at Airwaves, but the two Seattle entries were both strong and featured bands I really like a lot.  The Agent Fresco show was the best, hands down, as the intimacy of the tiny Nordic House venue and the emotional power of the show was almost overwhelming.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
3.  Trash Palace, Stockholm
4.  Jive Time, Seattle
5.  Amoeba Records, Los Angeles

I found great stuff in all these places in 2012, and hope to shop at four of them again in 2013 (unfortunately I have no plans to go back to Sweden…).  They all have great selections and are well organized, and I could spend hours flipping through their inventories.

Top 5 Websites

1.  Dust & Grooves – Record collector profiles and photos
2.  Vinyl Noize – Blurbs on rare punk and metal vinyl for sale on eBay
3.  Discogs – THE place to research artists and records
4.  I Love Icelandic Music Blog – No longer getting new posts, but still great
5.  Wikipedia – It has it’s limitations, but a good place to get basic info on bands

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Stuð vors lands by Dr. Gunni
2.  Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds
3.  Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm
4.  Iggy Pop – Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka
5.  How Music Works by David Byrne

All in all it was a great year, musically speaking (and in lots of other ways as well, to be sure).  My vinyl library grew considerably (see photo) – I’m not sure how many new discs I added, but in all honesty it has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 or so.  I suspect that will slow down a bit in 2013… but then again, we’re hoping to go to Iceland twice next year (fingers crossed), and we’re planning to hit up Tokyo as well… so time will tell.

I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

Sensational

This is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, which are generally focused on punk, grunge and new wave.  I didn’t listen to a lot of rap or hip hop as a teen in the 80s, though I had some of the classics – Run DMC, Public Enemy, N.W.A…. and of course, living in Seattle, Sir Mix-A-Lot was mandatory (Posse up!).  But for about the next oh, I don’t know, 20 years or so I didn’t really listen to any hip hop.  Maybe a little Eminem… but that was it.  Until we saw XXX Rottweiler Hundar at Iceland Airwaves in 2009, and on the same card an insane industrial band called Ghostigital.

I’ve written about Ghostigital’s molten industrial outpouring before.  It took me a while to get into their sound, but once I did I was hooked.  One thing that Ghostigital does is work with other artists they respect.  And one of those artists is New York rapper Sensational, who appears on all three Ghostigital albums… and invariably on the best tracks.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.  His style is perfect for Ghostigital, being so different than that of lead singer Einar Orn.  The two compliment each other perfectly.  Unfortunately Sensational hasn’t appeared with Ghostigital at an of the four live shows I’ve seen.  I can only hope… maybe someday.

I’m not sure why, but I never got around to looking into Sensational’s solo work.  Until Holly found a CD.  At the library.  The library.  Now first of all, I’m all about libraries.  I love to read, and I think that libraries are an important part of our communities.  But I don’t really think of them as places to find music (despite the fact that Holly regularly finds stuff there). And I certainly don’t think of it as a place to find Sensational.  But there he was, and now DJ Klos Presents the Best of Sensational resides in our iTunes library.  Good work King County Library System!  I may have to start checking out their online music catalog…

There’s a whole lot of stuff here.  With 30 tracks it feels like a double album, but a lot of the songs are really short – 13 clock in at under two minutes, and only four are more than three minutes long.  The beats are funky, the reverb is spacey, and the rapping itself is all over the place, with timing that sometimes goes with the beats, sometimes not.  I’m not sure what, if anything, to compare him to since I really don’t know hip hop.  It’s certainly not the stuff I grew up with, but instead a much rawer and electronic experience.  The timing Sensational uses makes many of his songs feel disjointed to me, generating an emotional response almost forcing me to stop what I’m doing and listen.  This isn’t background music.  It’s music that gets in your faces and challenges you to get some.

There’s a documentary about Sensational out, and after listening to this album I’m going to have to check it out once it comes out on DVD.  And I think I’m going to need to check the library for some of his back catalog…

Iceland Airwaves ’12 – Days 4 and 5

Well, Iceland Airwaves ’12 is in the books, and it was a hell of a festival.  In all I caught 39 shows and saw 35 different bands, plus came back with about 45 assorted records and CDs – a big win all the way around.  Here’s a recap of most of the bands we saw over the last two days.

Saturday

  • Prisimwaves:  I believe these guys are from Minnesota.  They played at the packed Bar 11 upstairs stage, and I’m not even sure they had an “on venue” official show, but regardless they had a cool vibe to them.
  • Oyama:  We pushed our way through the crowd to the tiny basement of Bar 11 to see Oyama, a new band fronted by the former lead singer of Fist Fokkers who we saw last year.  Kind of lo-fi, kind of punk, and it turns out this guy actually has a decent voice, which never got showcased in the punk Fist Fokkers.
  • Stereo Hypnosis:  Sort of ambient electronic.  Next.
  • Epic Rain:  Now these guys were interesting.  Kind of hip hop infused with New Orleans jazz.  They had a DJ who was both mixing the beats and scratching, plus two MCs.  We picked up their CD, and we understand one of the DJs from KEXP radio did as well, so there’s a good chance we’ll hear this on the radio in Seattle at some point.
  • Ghostigital:  Basically they played the same set as they did the previous day, but since Einar Orn ad-libs a lot of his lyrics, it still felt fresh.  This was one of the few shows in which we ventured off the fringes and waded right into the crowd, and there was a lot of head-bobbing going on.
  • Jesuslesfilles:  Next.
  • Dr. Spock:  Insanity.  Punk/rock/something with tons of intensity.  Holly wasn’t entirely sure when this one was getting ready to start, but afterwards she had to admit that it was impressive, and the crowd was really into it.
  • Rangleklods:  This electronic duo filled in for Django Django, who we really wanted to see but who were forced to cancel at the last minute due to an illness.  They were one of my two biggest surprise new (meaning new to me) bands of the festival, and I’ll be on the lookout for some of their music.  Moody electronica a la Depeche Mode.
  • Gusgus:  What can you say about the masters of dance music?  Most of the set was from their newest album, Arabian Horse, and included guest vocalists – though the female singer was not the same one who appeared on the album.  They also included “Add This Song” from 24/7 and a brand new track.  The room was completely packed, and Gusgus delivered.  Get out your glow sticks!

Sunday (Sunday Sunday!)

  • Barujarn:  We saw them at Airwaves in 2009 and 2011, and they’re still rocking the same surf punk, which is awesome.
  • Hljomsveitin Eg:  More or less straight forward rock, but the lead singer was really engaging and funny (“We’re going to play this song.  We like it.  It ends well.”), and I even picked up a pair of their CDs from them after the show.  They closed with a cover of The Who’s “My Generation”.
  • Skalmold:  Skalmold!!!  Bring on the goth thrash metal, with the three-guitar attack!  The only thing missing was an animal sacrifice.  A full-blown mosh broke out in front of the stage (mind you, there were about 150-200 people there – it was a small club), and these guys were smiling the whole show, obviously enjoying it.  A great way to close out the festival for us.

Iceland Airwaves ’12 – Day 3

The first two days of the festival were pretty impressive – overall the quality of the bands has been much higher than in past years, and that trend continued on Friday.

  • Ghostigital:  This blew my mind.  It was a stripped down set with just three members of Ghostigital performing at KEX Hostel, and the show was broadcast live by KEXP radio (and recorded… so look for it online in the upcoming weeks).  Einar flat out tore it up with an intense 25 minute set.
  • Dr. Gunni:  Dr. Gunni has a number of albums to his credit, and is also the local authority on the history of the Icelandic music scene.  His new coffee table book on Icelandic music was just released, and the show was at a bookstore for the release party.  He played alongside a rotation of Icelandic punk and rock artists from the 1980s.  A pretty cool experience (and an impressive looking, if very expensive, book… in Icelandic).
  • Monotown:  These guys came highly recommended by a friend here, but I found them somewhat boring.
  • Cercueil:  French goth band playing filmstrips in the background during their music.  I enjoyed their first song, which had a solid beat, but they went quickly downhill from there.  Came across as pretentious.
  • Olafur Arnalds:  This dude has a very intense fan base.  His group consisted of him on piano, along with a violin and a cello player.  Olafur also uses some electronic beats in some of his songs.  It was decent, but I’m not sure what all the hype is about, though I will say the violinist was incredibly impressive.
  • Apparat Organ Quartet:  Straight up synth-electro-pop.  Holly didn’t enjoy it too much, but the rest of us got into the groove with them.
  • Half Moon Run:  Think Nickelback, but a little less rockish.  Nuf said.
  • Hjalmar & Jimi Tenor:  Classic Icelandic reggae (yes, you read that correctly).  These guys have been around forever, but it’s the first time we’ve seen them.  Great sound, great horn section.  They got the crowd moving and energized for the headliner….
  • FM Belfast:  FM Belfast tore the place down, going full speed for just over an hour and whipping the crowed into an electronic pop frenzy.  They played a couple of new tracks, then some of their big hits, and the fans packed into Harpa ate it up and got after it.  If you ever get a chance to see these guys (and gal) live, you have to go!

Ghostigital – “Division of Culture & Tourism” and “Don’t Push Me” EP


Ghostigital only played a handful of live shows between 2009 and 2011…. and I was lucky enough to see two of them.  At Airwaves in 2009 they were in the middle of a bizarre lineup that found them wedged in between the very 70s ABBAesque pop stylings of BB & Blake, and the Icelandic hip hop band XXX Rottweiler.  I was woefully unprepared for the Ghostigital experience that time, but I was more than ready when they took the stage at Faktory in 2011.  At least as ready as you can ever be to see Einar Orn and the Ghostigital experience.  And trust me brothers and sisters, it is an experience.  I think the best word to describe my state of mind after seeing their 2009 show is “stunned”.

It took about a year following my first Ghostigital experience before I could screw up the courage to actually listen to their current album at the time, In Cod We Trust.  I didn’t take to it immediately, but I’m glad I gave it a chance and stuck it out – there is some brilliant music on there.  It’s not feel-good, and it’s not safe pop background music.  I mean, not everyone can write a song about the Cod Wars fought on the high seas between Iceland and England, and actually make it good.  The music intense, in-your-face, disjointed, and jarring.  But it will get you moving, as we saw at Faktory in 2011 when the packed crowd looked like a small sea of bobbing heads.

2012 saw two new (though related) releases from Ghostigital – their third LP, Division of Culture & Tourism, along with a Record Store Day Europe 12″ called Don’t Push Me.  One of the great benefits of our modern age is the accessibility of music (and just stuff in general), and I was able to track down a copy of the 12″ on eBay, which held me over until the full album was released (even though I have Division of Culture & Tourism on mp3, I strongly suspect I’ll be picking up a copy on vinyl as well when we’re in Reykjavik in a few weeks – vinyl is better!).  And I know we’re going to see them again live, hopefully catching both of their scheduled shows.  If you’re interested in the Ghostigital live experience, check out the KEXP radio website (www.kexp.org) – they’re broadcasting some live sets from Airwaves this year, including one of the Ghositigal shows.

Einar Orn is one of those names in Icelandic music that seems to keep showing up no matter where I look.  He was part of one of the earliest important punk bands in the country, Purrkur Pillnikk, and later a member of both KUKL and The Sugarcubes alongside Bjork.  Today he works for the city of Reykjavik making sure your busses run on time.  And continues to make challenging music,

Division of Culture & Tourism is a kick-ass album, and one featuring collaborations with a number of other great musicians.  Rapper Sensational is back, reprising his intermittent appearances on the first two Ghostigital albums – it would be amazing if he could join them live, as his lyrical style is perfect for the band’s sound.  David Byrne of Talking Heads fame contributes on a track, as does Suicide’s Alan Vega.  When it comes to collaboration, Einar Orn’s usual approach is to send a track to his collaborator and basically allow them to do whatever they want with it.  Based on the results, it seems like a good plan – my favorite two songs on the album are “Don’t Push Me,” featuring Sensational, and “Dreamland,” featuring David Byrne.  Byrne does most of the vocals on “Dreamland” with Einar coming in for the chorus parts (if you can really call it a chorus), and he delivers the best line on the album with “I was born in the Devil’s toolbox / I went to school where the wind don’t blow.”  An honorable mention goes out for “Hovering Hoover Skates”, which has a solid beat and some pretty funny lyrics, including references to mustaches.

What makes me so spectacular?
Is it my fabulous hat?
No, no, no,
It’s my mooo-stache,
It’s so great!

The Don’t Push Me EP consists of four tracks – the album versions of “Don’t Push Me” and “Scary Scary”, along with a song not found on the LP, “Elastic Tongue”, and a remix of “Don’t Push Me” by the Icelandic duo Gluteus Maximus.  The remix is the highlight, as Gluteus Maximus completely stripped out the music from the original track and replaced it with a heavy, quick bass-beat.  It’s a more stripped down, minimalist approach than the original, and very cool.

It’s not dance music, but I have to admit I always find my feet or my head moving, or fingers tapping, when Ghostigital is playing.