Grísalappalísa ‎– “Sumar Á Gríslandi” (2015)

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to playing Grísalappalísa’s Sumar Á Gríslandi.  It’s been sitting patiently on my “To Play” shelf since we returned from Iceland Airwaves in early November, and I listened to the other Grísalappalísa album I bought on the trip (Ali) almost two months ago.  Yet there it sat.  Waiting.  Waiting to be played.

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Maybe I’d been putting it off because it’s a double album.  Or maybe because finally making it through the last of the Icelandic vinyl somehow sort of closes out Airwaves 2015 in my mind, leaving me with just the memories and the longing until Airwaves 2016 arrives in a bit over nine months.  Nine months… may as well be forever, but at the same time, I suspect it’ll be here before I know it.

Grísalappalísa actually did an online fundraiser on Karolina Fund to finance pressing their first two albums on vinyl (both were previously CD only releases) as well as this new record, Sumar Á Gríslandi, a double album that at least for now is only available on vinyl.  What’s particularly cool about this new record is that it’s all live material, with three of the sides are given over to the band’s 2014 tour of Iceland, way, way up north in the town of Húsavík (population 2,237), while the fourth side is an assortment of tracks from other performances.  The recording quality of the live material is outstanding, so I’m guessing it all came straight through the soundboard.

Grísalappalísa sound both well-practitced and loose on Sumar Á Gríslandi – there’s a strong live vibe to the performance, but it never falls apart into sloppiness.  I think the B side is my favorite.  It opens with an excellent cover of Megas‘ “Björg,” which makes sense given that the band put out a 7″ in 2013 that featured a pair of Megas covers, including this song (the band celebrates Megas again on side D with “Grísalappalísa”).  That’s followed by the sort of blues rock-ish “Reykingar,” a Stuðmenn cover, a great one-two punch.

Start to finish Sumar Á Gríslandi is one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard.  Don’t let the fact that the lyrics are in Icelandic scare you off, because this is still a great record.  And thankfully our friends from Grísalappalísa will let you check out the whole thing for free HERE, so go check out some songs.

Grísalappalísa – “Ali” (2013 / 2015)

We caught Grísalappalísa on the opening night of Iceland Airwaves in 2013, and they put on a pretty good show.  We sort of encountered them the following year as well, but in a very different way when we attended what can be best described as a modern/interpretive dance performance that included a solo work by Grísalappalísa front man Gunnar Ragnarsson.  And truth be told it was a bit of a mind-blower, because I’d never seen anything at all remotely like that before.  And let me tell you something – putting yourself out there in front of a room full of people, with no music and no other performers to accompany you, laying it all out there for everyone to see, takes a set of brass ones.

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Until this trip, however, the only music of theirs I owned were the two 7″ records they put out that cover a pair of Icelandic music legends, Megas and Stuðmenn.  I’m not entirely sure why I either resisted or never got around to buying any of their albums (though could be because they weren’t available on vinyl upon release…), but I rectified that this year by picking up copies of 2013s Ali and the recently released double live album Sumar Á Gríslandi.

I decided to start with Ali, a seven-song record featuring a couple of un-punk-like 6+ minute songs, including the almost 10 minute marathon that is “Fjallkirkjan.”  And right out of the gate it’s apparent that Grísalappalísa isn’t stuck on a specific formula or genre.  The opening track, “Kraut í G,” has a good dose of punk rock anger to it, but it occasionally slows down into almost lite indie rock grooving in a few parts.  That’s followed by “Allt má (má út)” which has both prog rock and funk musical elements overlaid by some aggressive vocals.  “Lóan er komin” gives us a heavy dose of post-punk, and then the marathon “Fjallkirkjan” takes us to a smooth jazzy saxophone-driven space.  The one common element is the vocals, which are almost accusatory in delivery rather than sung, angst riddled in a way that sounds more resigned than angry.  The juxtaposition of the singing and the music can be somewhat jarring at times, which I think is the point.

Ali is a solid album.  I respect the fact that Grísalappalísa aren’t trying to give us a cohesive album, but instead challenge us with a lot of different styles and sounds.  It doesn’t necessarily make for an easy album to listen to from start-to-finish if you’re in the mood for something specific, but more like playing your iPod on shuffle, which is sometimes exactly what you’re looking for.

Grísalappalísa – “Grísalappalísa Syngur Stuðmenn” 7″

grisalappalissasutdmennThis is the second in the series of 7″ records featuring Icelanders Grísalappalísa doing covers of seminal Icelandic popular musicians.  They started with a two-song tribute to Megas called Grísalappalísa Syngur Megas in 2013, and just about six weeks ago put out their second, a 7″ dedicated to Stuðmenn.  Like it’s predecessor, Grísalappalísa Syngur Stuðmenn is a limited edition release, but keep in mind that the numbering of each copy is on a sticker attached to the reverse of the plastic sleeve that holds the jacket – so don’t toss it!  The Megas record was limited to 250 copies, and I assume this one is similar in size (though mine is a low number, so I can’t be sure).  Also like the Megas record, it’s on colored vinyl, this time a nice baby blue.  As soon as I saw it was out I reached out to my friends in Reykjavik over at Lucky Records and ordered myself a copy (which, of course, meant ordering other stuff too… <sigh>… the life of the vinyl junkie).

While the record itself only has two tracks, “Strax Í Dag” and “Reykingar” the download card includes a third as well – “Búkalú” (which is actually my favorite of the three).  “Strax Í Dag” appeared on Stuðmenn’s debut album from 1975, Sumar Á Sýrlandi, a record that put them on the map as probably the most popular band in Iceland.  “Reykingar” is from a split LP they did as part of a movie project in 1982 with the all-female new wave/punk band Grýlurnar called Með Allt Á Hreinu, an album I’ve actually written about before on Life in the Vinyl Lane.  The secret download only song “Búkalú” dates from the 1985 release Í Góðu Geimi, the only of the three Stuðmenn originals I don’t own.  Might need try to track a copy down when we’re at Airwaves in November.

This is a fun little record.  “Strax Í Dag” is done in a sort of lo-fi, half drunken slurred way, while the sax intro to “Reykingar” sets the tone for a bluesy type number.  “Búkalú” is the gem, though, opening with some 80s style synth madness, more synth-pop than new wave and really cool.  I like that a locally popular band like Grísalappalísa is paying tribute to their home-grown popular music influences, and doing it with these unique one-off 7″ releases.  As long as they keep putting them out, I’ll keep buying them.

Grísalappalísa – “Grísalappalísa Syngur Megas”

We were wrapping up Thursday night of Iceland Airwaves over at Dolly Bar in Reykjavik, watching our friend King Lucky spin his Afro-beat and funk set, when it happened.  It had been a long day of music and food already, and I knew that I was about one beer away from a hangover, when King Lucky himself strolled over carrying a free round of beers for the table.  The die had been cast.  I mean, what’s a man to do?  I can’t turn away a free beer from a friend.  And that’s when Lucky (aka Ingvar of Lucky Records) told us that we needed to make sure to be at the store at Noon the following day… they were doing something special.  A dance performance.

Wait, a what?  “Yeah man.  No music, just Gunnar from Grísalappalísa and Uni from Retro Stefson.  I don’t know what they’re going to be doing, but it’s going to be wild,” said the King.

Now, I don’t know anything about dance.  I don’t watch Dancing With The Stars, and Holly hasn’t asked me to take her to the ballet in years.  Admittedly we did take swing lessons together for a brief time, and that was kind of fun.  Dance just isn’t my think.  But Lucky was excited about it, and when the cobwebs in my head cleared I remembered his words, so on Friday we headed down to the store to check it out.

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I knew both these performers from their musical works, but I was not familiar with them as interpretive dancers.  Nor was interpretive dance even remotely what I was expecting.  I was game, though.  I mean look, if you’re willing to get out there in front of a small group of people and dance, completely alone and with no music, you’ve got some balls and I respect that.  Gunnar went first (left), and man, that dude absolutely beat the hell out of himself. And I mean that literally.  Smacking his chest and literally punching himself in the face.  At one point he threw himself onto the ground and there was a sickening thud as his head hit the wood floor.  Hard.  Everyone heard it.  I give the dude credit – he committed.  He was all in.

What does this have to do with vinyl?  Nothing specifically.  Except Grísalappalísa had just released a single with none other than Megas, arguably the most important socio-musical force in Iceland pretty much ever.  They were even performing live with him, though we never managed to catch them during the festival.  What I did catch though, was a copy of the limited edition (of 250) 7″ Grísalappalísa Syngur Megas (BTW kids, the individual number is on a sticker on the back of the plastic sleeve the record comes in… so don’t get rid of it!) vinyl.  It actually came out back in 2013, and somehow I missed it.

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Grísalappalísa Syngur Megas is not only a cool concept, it actually has a pair of decent songs on it as well.  You can actually check out both songs, in full, on the Grísalappalísa Bandcamp page HERE.  It sounds like this won’t be the end of their covers of iconic Icelandic bands, as I understand they just did a Stuðmenn cover as well, and in an interview with the English language Reykjavik Grapvine indicated that they had some other cover projects in the works.  “I guess the purpose of the 7″ inch series is to give these old classics a twist; and maybe introduce these songs to some people that haven’t heard them, or maybe make it acceptable for the hipster to like them.”  Despite the hipster comment, I still like the idea and will keep my eyes peeled for future 7″ releases.