The Best of 2018

Where did the year go?  In my case, most of it seemingly went to work.  It was a busy year professionally, with a major work project consuming most of it and even keeping us from attending Iceland Airwaves, our first absence from that festival in a decade.  But the good news is that the product launch was pretty successful, so things should return to normal next year.  And to make sure we already bought our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2019, so hopefully we’ll see you in Reykjavik in November.

It wasn’t all work in 2018, even though sometimes it felt that way.  We took a great trip to Japan and Korea in the Spring and enjoyed long weekends in Portland, Denver, and New York City, all of which involved record shopping.  The blog suffered a bit, however.  This was my lightest year of posting since Life in the Vinyl Lane started back in 2012.  I’ll finish the year somewhere just north of 180 posts, which is a lot, though not even close to the 222 I wrote the year before (and that’s even less than the years before).  Trust me – the reason had nothing to do with not having enough great music to write about.  It was just a matter of time.

Whether you’re a regular reader of Life in the Vinyl Lane or just pop by from time to time, I’d like to thank you.  Feel free to drop me a note any time and let me know what you think, or what I need to listen to, because I love hearing from you.

So with all that being said, here’s Life in the Vinyl Lane’s Best of 2018!  Keep it punk.

nycpunk

Top 5 New Releases In 2018

  1. Lies Are More Flexible – Gusgus (Iceland)
  2. Electrostatic – Individual Totem (Germany)
  3. Death Is A True Prophet – ERZH (Iceland)
  4. Bring Down The House Lights – Dirty Sidewalks (US)
  5. Digital Garbage – Mudhoney (US)

2018 was a truly outstanding year for music, both generally and for me personally – quite a few of my favorite artists put out releases.  In fact, of the 24 different performers who have graced my Top 5 New Releases lists since 2012, 10 of them put out new albums this year, including three who held down the #1 spot on a previous list.  To get to the Top 5 this year we started with about 60 albums, whittled that down to the final 20. and then listened to those again over the last few weeks.  Arriving at the final seven was easy, but trimming that down to five… man, it was tough.

gusguslies1

The top spot, however, was a pretty easy choice for me.  I’m a huge fan of Gusgus and have been through their various iterations and changing styles.  Their latest release, Lies Are More Flexible, found the group down to just two core members and moving in a more heavily musical direction with outstanding results.  I know not everyone is sold – most of my friends who are also Gusgus fans lean towards either the instrumental or the vocal tracks on the album, loving half of it and not caring as much for the other.  But to my ears it’s all outstanding.

The next two albums weren’t released on vinyl, but that wasn’t going to keep them off the list.  I was a latecomer to the world of Individual Totem, but their new CD creates a dark electro buzz in my brain that has me wanting to explore their back catalog. ERZH’s Death Is A True Prophet is the third heavily electronic album on the list, one physically released only via cassette from Iceland’s FALK label, which continues to pump out infatuating albums by little-known hyper-talented artists.  The Top 5 rounds out with a pair of Seattle-based bands, newcomer psych-stars Dirty Sidewalks and grunge/punk veterans Mudhoney.  Mudhoney edged out a few other challengers (most notably Fufanu) for the #5 spot primarily on the strength of Digital Garbage‘s lyrics, a combination of snark and venom aimed at the direction things are taking in American society these days, which I found to be poignant.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Rammstein (Germany)
  2. Executive Slacks (US)
  3. Chinas Comidas (US)
  4. GRÓA (Iceland)
  5. Holz (US)

Oddly enough the top artist on this list is one I’ve never written about, nor do I have any of their albums on vinyl, even though they’ve been around forever.  I decided to finally check out Rammstein after, believe it or not, seeing the opening scene to the original xXx movie which featured the Germans playing the song “Feuer Frei!” in a club.  Within a few weeks we had about half a dozen Rammstein CDs and were playing them constantly on our iPods.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. Medical Records Catalog
  2. Unholy Death – N.M.E.
  3. Ork Records: New York, New York
  4. Korean Metal
  5. Ravno Do Dna – Azra

medicalrecordslogo

Over one of the holiday weekends earlier this year, Seattle’s Medical Records label posted on their Facebook page that everything on their Bandcamp page was something like 30% off.  I shot them a quick note asking if that included the package deal they offer whereby you can order one copy of every single release they still have in stock, figuring there was no way they’d say yes.  And they said yes.  I did the mental math, factoring in how many duplicates this would mean for me based on stuff I already had, and pulled the trigger.  In just a few days two massive boxes showed up on my front porch.  The final count was just over 50 assorted LPs and 12″ vinyl, plus a few 7″ records and even a cassette.  I still haven’t managed to get through all of this synthy goodness, but everything I’ve pulled off the shelf so far has been awesome.

Unholy Death has a local tie and led to Holly and I taking a field trip, which you can read about if you click the link above.  I got a screaming deal on a used copy of the Ork Records: New York, New York box set, and was excited to find that the unused download card were still inside.  Buying 1980s Korean metal in an (literally) underground market area that included a half dozen stores made for a fun afternoon in Seoul, and the copy of Ravno Do Dna had a surprise inside, three old postcards from Yugoslavia, which was kind of cool.

None of this stuff was particularly valuable or ultra-rare, but instead things that resonated with me.  The money is just a means to get more music!

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Roseland Theater, Portland
  2. Henry Rollins – Neptune Theater, Seattle
  3. Dream Wife – Barboza, Seattle
  4. Mudhoney – Neptune Theater, Seattle
  5. Devil Makes Three – Red Rocks Ampitheater, Colorado

brmcportland

We only saw five shows in 2018.  Given that we didn’t make it to Airwaves, that’s probably about typical, though.  This year’s clear winner was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (right).  We first saw them a few years back at an outdoor show in Salt Lake City, which was fun, but BRMC are a band that feels like it belongs in a dark club somewhere.  And while the Rosalind isn’t a club, it’s pretty intimate and plenty dark inside, and the band sounded incredible.

I wasn’t sure if Henry Rollins qualified for the list, since we saw his spoken word travel photography show.  But he’s a musician, and it’s my blog, so I guess I can do what I want.  Henry talked at 100 mph for 2.5 hours straight, never once stopping for a break, sitting down, or even taking a single sip of water.  And I’m not exaggerating.  Henry has more energy than should be humanly possible.

It was exciting to see Dream Wife outside of Reykjavik, even more so since I’d just done a 30 minute phone interview with lead singer Rakel a few weeks prior for the newly released issue of Reykjavik On Stage.  For Mudhoney, this was our second time seeing them do a record release show, having gone to the one for Vanishing Point as well, and the mosh pit was off the charts.  The list rounds out with our second time seeing Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks.  They’re alway outstanding – this was either my 6th or 7th time experiencing them live and they never disappoint.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America (excluding the greater Seattle area)

  1. 1709 Records, Vancouver (WA)
  2. Green Noise Records, Portland
  3. Twist & Shout Records, Denver
  4. Academy Records Annex, Brooklyn
  5. Mississippi Records, Portland

The Rest of the World

  1. Time Bomb Records, Osaka
  2. Stereo Records, Hiroshima
  3. Seoul Record Mall, Seoul
  4. Compufunk Records, Osaka
  5. Jet Set Records, Kyoto

I decided to not include any Seattle-area shops this year.  After all, Easy Street Records, which just got named to Rolling Stone‘s top 10 record stores in the US, will probably be #1 on my North America list from now until forever, and there are a number of other local shops I love too.  Plus we traveled enough in the US this year to easily come up with a list of five stores that I want to get back to again someday.

1709-3

1709 Records was a very pleasant surprise when I found myself with a few hours to kill on a business trip to Vancouver, Washington, and I came away with some cool Green River and Scratch Acid vinyl.  Portland’s Green Noise has been around for a while, though this was the first time we’d ever stopped by.  It just moved to a location a few blocks from another perennial Top 5 favorite, Mississippi Records (#5 this year, and remember kids – always bring cash, because they don’t take plastic!), so I’m sure it’ll be a regular stop on future visits to Rip City.

timebombosaka1As for the rest of the world, this is the first time no stores in Reykjavik made the list, which gave me more space for other stuff.  Osaka’s Time Bomb was perfectly laid out and organized, and every single record accurately graded.  I could have spent hours there.  Stereo Records wasn’t even on our list of shops to visit in Hiroshima – we found it because it was across the street from a shop we were actually looking for, and it offered a deep selection of excellent condition titles.  I almost included the Osaka branch of Tower Records, and not just for nostalgia reasons – the CD selection was of course filled with Japanese releases, both artists as well as special editions, plus I got a cool old-school Tower t-shirt that always elicits comments when I wear it.  Bonus points to Compufunk for also being a club, a fully stocked bar, and an amazing view of the river in Osaka.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Beastie Boys Book, by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz
  2. Sticky Fingers:  The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, by Joe Hagan
  3. The Mudd Club, by Richard Boch
  4. Zounds Demystified, by Steve Lake
  5. Factory, by Mick Middles

beastieboysbook

I should confess that I only managed to read six music-related books in 2018, so this wasn’t too tough to put together.  The Beastie Boys Book is a great journey through the lives of Mike and the two Adams, with tons of pictures and commentary from assorted friends and fellow artists.  I also enjoyed Sticky Fingers, an in depth biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner.  Wenner is extraordinarily driven, and while at times Hagan’s portrait of him is less than flattering there is no denying Wenner’s ambition and confidence (and the one-time magnitude of his cocaine habit). Richard Boch’s memoir of his time as the doorman of NYC’s infamous Mudd Club is a seemingly honest portrayal of the grittiness of the city in the late 1970s, a city populated by young people who were simply surviving day by day in a dystopian urban environment that offered little in the way of a future and plenty of drugs.  Zounds Demystified is a stream-of-consciousness  history of the post-punk band Zounds written by a former member, and Factory tells the story of the infamous and influential Factory Records label.

 

It’s hard to believe 2018 is already in the books.  Mind you, I think I say that every year – the older I get, the shorter the years seem to be.  I’m excited for a fresh start in 2019 and can’t wait to see what it has in store for us!

Stephan Stephensen aka President Bongo – “If It’s Too Loud You’re Too Old” CD (2006)

Stephan Stephensen is better known by his nom de Gusgus President Bongo.  He’s also done some solo stuff, most recently the pretty fantastic electronic album Serengeti in 2015.  His electro-cred is top notch.

bongotooloud

Last weekend I got a box of stuff in the mail from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, an assortment of CDs, LPs, and 7″ singles that should keep me fairly occupied over the next month or so.  Included was this interesting CD called If It’s Too Loud You’re Too Old, an hour-long recording of a President Bongo live set during Airwaves ’06 at the famed club Sirkus.  Sirkus was on borrowed time at that point, slated to be demolished and replaced by something newer and presumably “better”, at least better in the eyes of those who want to make money off of their real estate, not necessarily for music fans.  The music was intended as the soundtrack of an installation of sorts, an in-the-moment project that probably needed to be experienced in its entirety to truly appreciate.

Musically If It’s Too Loud You’re Too Old is simply a bass beat, and that’s more or less it.  There are subtle changes to it over time, getting a bit more intense or with the addition of slight nuances, but for the most part it’s an hour-long beat track.  It’s intriguing and interesting, but unless you have a club in your basement you might not make it all the way through.  Bongo does throw us the occasional curve ball, like the beat taking on a more bongo-esque (no pun intended) quality at around the 34 minute mark.  The second half has more variety than the first, but for the most part you’re getting something that doesn’t change much over the course of an hour.

If It’s Too Loud You’re Too Old comes in a DVD-style case.  The disc itself is hand-numbered, an edition of 25 copies, and mine is signed by Stephensen on the disc label itself.  Tracking one down will be difficult, I’m sure, and it may be primarily of interest to the Gusgus completist, or potentially to someone looking to pull a sample from it.  Or someone with a club in their basement…

Gusgus – “Lies Are More Flexible” (2018)

The truth will set you free.  At least that’s what Jesus told his followers according to John 8:32.  I think Jesus was talking about a capital T kind of Truth, like as in “I’m the son of God, so if you believe that Truth you will be free” kind of thing.  Which is interesting because that phrase is used in all kinds of situations and is generally applied to a more lowercase t brand of truth, that telling the truth and/or the truth behind your actions will exonerate you from those who try to make up crap about you.  Which is pretty good too, I suppose, and it isn’t a bad life philosophy, even if it’s one that pretty much none of us can live every moment of every day.  Sometimes you need a little lie so you can just get by.  Why?  Because lies are more flexible.

I started Life in the Vinyl Lane back in September of 2012, and every year I’ve done a Top 5 list of my picks for the year’s best releases.  In 2014 Icelandic electro-powerhouse Gusgus pulled down the top spot with the brilliant Mexico.  If I’d started a year earlier I can 100% guarantee you that Arabian Horse would have won top honors for 2011.  Will they be able to repeat four years later with their latest effort, Lies Are More Flexible?  2018 opened strong with killer releases by Dirty Sidewalks and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, plus there’s another 10 full months of music on the horizon before I need to make that decision.  But one thing I know for sure is that Lies Are More Flexible will be part of the conversation, because it’s that damn good.

My personal history with Gusgus goes back to 2009 when I saw them live in Reykjavik and subsequently fell in love with the dark, brooding 24/7, a marathon six-track double album comprised of layer after layer of moroseness.  Since then we’ve seen ’em live another half dozen or so times and it feels like Lies Are More Flexible finds the band, now down to just the duo of Biggi Veira and Daníel Ágúst, coming full circle.  While Arabian Horse (2011) and Mexico (2014) introduced additional singers to the group with all the complexity and interplay that entails, their latest effort takes them back to their dance roots.  This was evident during their 90 minute live show at the Reykjavik Art Museum last November, a performance that was more live dance club than it was concert.  Don’t get me wrong, those other two albums were plenty danceable; but they were also more structured with performers filling different roles and feeding off of one another.  But LiesLies… this is one man with his beats (Biggi) and another with his voice (Daniel), and they aren’t beholden to anyone.

gusguslies2

The mood is set right out of the gate with the album’s first single, “Featherlight”, a deep house groover with slowly building synths and soaring, ethereal vocals, a track that would be right at home on any of the Gusgus releases over the past decade.  If there’s a universal sound around which Gusgus orbits, this is its near-perfect template.  The following number, “Don’t Know How To Love”, appears to further establish this as the album’s direction (♣).  The first couple of listens had me thinking that the backing vocals were done by former Gusgus member Högni, but it wasn’t until I checked the credits that I realized that singer is none other than John Grant.  While the beats are solid, it’s Daniel’s trademarked pitch and timing changes to the repetitive chorus Don’t know how to love that define its direction, conveying the emotion almost exclusively with the sound of his voice instead of the meaning of the words themselves.  No one does this as well as Daníel Ágúst.  No one.

gusguslies1

Things take bit of a left turn with “Fireworks”.  Gusgus is not a group that spends much time looking backwards – their live shows are generally based on their most recent material, with “Add This Song” (2009) the one older track that consistently makes the set list.  But “Fireworks”… this is a blast from the past.  It just oozes with the influences of 2002s Attention, a retro Gusgus number if there ever was one and a bit of a shock to the system.  That’s followed by “Lifetime”, which offers more of a blend of the old (synths) and new (beats), and now my compass is totally off – I have no idea what to expect next.

Next up is “No Manual” and we’re treated to yet another change-of-pace, this time delivering a deep house instrumental to our ears, something very reminiscent of fellow countrymen Kiasmos with its rich textures and layers accompanied by electronic strings to give it a modern electro-classical feel.  And then the title track kicks in and I feel like I’m rollin’ with Crockett and Tubbs in a convertible sports car with the top down, tearing along a deserted road in Florida doing about 90 mph in the nighttime blackness, all hot and humid, the road only lit by the headlights.  The deep bass keeps the steady pace, the mid range bounces around to change the mood, and the synths on top replace the vocals on this, the album’s second consecutive instrumental jam.

Bringing things to a close are the un-Gusgus-like “Towards A Storm”, a 48 second field recording of sorts that should feel out of place but somehow doesn’t, followed by yet another instrumental dance-floor-ready burner, “Fuel”.  (♠)  Biggi has always had a significant impact on Gusgus’ overall sound, but his near-complete ownership of the second half of Lies Are More Flexible definitively puts his stamp on this new era for the band.

I’ve been trading texts with my friends Tristen, Andy, and Norberto about Lies Are More Flexible, and while all of us agree it’s outstanding, it’s the second half that generates the most disagreement with some of us preferring these vocal-less tracks and others wishing there was more Daniel.  As much as I love Daniel, I’m in the latter camp – the beats and synths are killer on those later tracks, and that hint of old-school action puts a smile on my face.

Lies Are More Flexible isn’t exactly the album I was expecting of Gusgus, but that’s part of their beauty – they’re always evolving.  Holistically it feels more like an EP (the instrumental second half) and a couple of 12″ singles, one more contemporary and one more retro.  However, Biggi provides enough underlying consistency in the low end to hold all the parts together in a cohesive whole.  I’ve been playing it a ton and I expect it’s going to remain in heavy rotation for much of 2018 if not longer.  I’m not sure it’ll make it to #1 on my year-end list, but a spot somewhere in the Top 5 feels almost assured.

(♣)  A feint of sorts, as it turns out.  Not an outright lie, but more of a misdirection.  But hey, lies are more flexible, so…

(♠)  There’s a hint of Daniel’s voice floating around the edges of parts of “Fuel”, not singing lyrics but instead making vocalizations with an instrumental quality to them.

The Best of 2017

Unlike many Life in the Vinyl Lane blogs, I’m writing this one on the same day I’m posting it.  It’s Christmas morning, and out my living room window I can see the rare Seattle white Christmas in effect as we got about three inches of snow last night, which is a nice touch (it’ll be even nicer if it’s all melted off the roads by time I have to leave for work on Wednesday morning…).  But since we don’t have kids and both of us have very small immediate families, this morning is much like any other winter-time weekend, only with different holiday-themed coffee cups.

Going into 2017 I decided to start keeping a log to help me with my year-end lists, and while I wasn’t as diligent as I’d have liked it still was a big help, especially in the area of new releases.  There was a lot of great new music this year!  In fact, there was so much that the choices weren’t all that easy to make.  Since Holly and I both have project management backgrounds, though, we were able to come up with a solution – we created a scrum board of our favorite 16 releases of 2017 and then used a random number generator to select which one we would play every night as we worked our way through them.  And I’m glad we did, because there were some albums from earlier in the year that had fallen off our radars a bit, and man they sounded great when we came back around to them.

2017luckybw

In preparation I also spent a few hours combing through the top albums lists of various major (and minor) publications and blogs.  Perhaps even more so in years past I was struck by two things.  The first is how few of the albums on other lists I’ve heard.  In fact, when it came to the major pubs (think Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME…) I literally had only heard ONE album on any of these lists – Songhoy Blues’ Résistance, which appeared at #31 on the Rolling Stone list, though nowhere else.  The only other one I found was in The Quietus‘ top metal albums list, having heard and reviewed Sólstafir’s Berdreyminn.    So at least there’s that.  Only Dr. Rok’s list of Top 20 Icelandic releases yielded any common ground – I’ve heard 14 of these, which probably is indicative of the real issue here, which is that I listen to a lot of Icelandic music, and that stuff doesn’t generally make the year-end lists with a few exceptions.  And that brings me to my second observation.  I’m surprised how many of the bands on these lists I have never even heard of.  In fact, on most lists I’m lucky to have heard of maybe a quarter of the artists, sometimes less.  For a guy who writes a music blog, I sure don’t seem to know much about what’s happening in music.

All that being said, the scrum board has been taken down and the votes tallied.  So without further ado…

Top 5 New Releases In 2017

  1. Neysluvara – Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Midnight Champion – Legend (Iceland)
  3. Suero – Farmacia (Argentina)
  4. Space Cadaver – Space Cadaver (US – New Orleans)
  5. Sports – Fufanu (Iceland)

hatariconsumer03

There were two albums I knew were going to be in my Top 5 even before the scrum board experiment – Neysluvara and Midnight Champion.  They were clearly head-and-shoulders above all comers in 2017.  While Legend held an edge over Hatari by virtue of the fact that they put out a full album while their island-mates only gave us a four-song EP (and one that was only on CD to boot!), we were both simply blown away by Hatari.  Neysluvara‘s brand of IDM has been pumping out of my iPod almost non-stop over the last two months and it doesn’t get old.  If I’m being honest Hatari probably gets a little extra lift by the fact that we saw them live this year and they blew us away.  I get that that shouldn’t impact a top album kind of thing, but as Holly pointed out, this is a blog and music is a personal experience, and it’s hard to separate out those personal experiences from the music itself.  So as much as I love Midnight Champion, both musically and lyrically, I’m giving the top spot by Hatari.

Suero had fallen off the radar for a while and revisiting it reminded me of just how good it is.  If there’s one thing that separates it from Space Cadaver and Sports, it’s the sonic experimentation the Argentinian’s do.  Sure, it’s all electronic music; but it’s all over the board, from pure dance numbers to crazy experiments.  And I’d be lying if the personal connection we made with the Sima brothers earlier this year on our visit to Buenos Aires didn’t have an impact on my feelings about this album.  Space Cadaver is unquestionably my favorite metal album of 2017, and while I think it’s only available on cassette you owe it to yourself to get a copy and go buy a cheap boom box at the pawn shop so you can listen to it (or, of course, simply buy a download, you know, if you’re lazy like that), and Fufanu hit it out of the post-punk park with Sports.  From a genre standpoint I’m very happy with this Top 5 list as there’s great stuff here for people of almost any musical taste.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Farmacia (Argentina)
  3. Kuldaboli (Iceland)
  4. Revenge of Calculon (UK)
  5. Egyptian Lover (US)

I’ve already touched on the top two bands on this list, so let me move on to the next three.  Kuldaboli’s Vafasamur Lífsstíll 2015-2016 came out at the very end of 2016, and if I’d heard it then instead of early this year it probably would have made my top five new releases list last year – it’s that good.  I got to see him perform live at Lucky Records during Airwaves this years as well as chat with him for a few minutes – good dude.  We caught Revenge of Calculon live in the cramped, damp confines of Dillon on the last day of Airwaves and they killed it with their brand of electro-movie-horror-funk and since then I’ve picked up all four of their 7″ records.  As for Egyptian Lover… how had I gone this long without ever having heard the Lover before??  I can thank our friend Ingvar for this one.  We were chatting about music over dinner when he visited Seattle and was dumbfounded by my lack of Egyptian experience.  The next day at Silver Platters he walked up to me with a box set, pressed it in my hands, and said “you need to buy this”.  And he was right. Takk, Ingvar!

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” – Connections
  2. Driving the Bats Thru Jerusalem – Bonemen of Barumba
  3. 20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle
  4. Special Offer – Sensational
  5. Suero – Farmacia

connectionstugofwar

Four of the five items on this list have some kind of personal connection, actually resulting in me becoming connected with the artists.  The totally random pick-up of the Connections 7″ led me to former member Nolan Anderson and his lovely wife Catherine, who today perform as the Mad Andersons.  I was able to provide a ripped copy of the songs to Nolan, which he hadn’t heard in decades, and that made me feel really good.

My post on Bonemen of Barumba somehow found its way to former founding member Mark Panick, who stunned me when he posted on Facebook that he liked the fact that I obviously “got it” in terms of what the band was doing.  We later connected online, only to come to find out that we have a friend in common – the one and only Ingvar of Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  Mark even sports a Lucky t-shirt in a video he was in earlier this year.  Ingvar struck again with Sensational, who I turned him onto during his trip to Seattle and who he then, against all logical odds, ran into randomly on the streets of NYC just days later.  That led to me Facebook messaging with Sensational a bit and buying some mail order from him.

Oddly enough Iceland also played a part in us connecting with Ariel and Diego Sima of Farmacia in Buenos Aires – their album Suero was put out on cassette by Reykjavik’s Lady Boy Records.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the brothers while in Argentina and picked up a bunch of their back catalog from them.  As for Throbbing Gristle… this one was purely about acquisition.  My local record haunt Vortex posted on FB that they’d just acquired a bunch of experimental stuff from a local DJ and I immediately wend down to the store where I scored a couple of great condition TG titles, a great opportunity to explore some of the early works of the pioneers of industrial music.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Hatari – Gamla Bíó, Reykjavik
  2. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Nectar Lounge, Seattle
  3. Metallica – CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  4. Revenge of Calculon – Dillon, Reykjavik
  5. GusGus – Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

hatariconsumer01

I thought I had this list wrapped up about a week ago.  And I did.  At least until we headed out to Nectar Lounge on Dec. 23 and caught Sir Mix-A-Lot live, which forced me into a last-minute revision.

I covered the Hatari, Revenge of Calculon, and Gusgus shows in my various posts from Iceland Airwaves this year, and actually did the same about Metallica when I wrote about the live CD of this actual show.  Each of these shows gave me something different.  Hatari was a brilliant performance, an integration of stage presence and music; Metallica was a chance to revisit my youth, the first time I’d seen the masters of thrash live since the late 1980s; Revenge of Calculon was one of those great unexpected surprises you sometimes get at live shows; and Gusgus… what more can I say about Gusgus?  They gave us a 90 minute set that had the crowd swaying and dancing the entire time and were musically brilliant as always.

As for Mix-A-Lot, he’s Seattle hip hop royalty and his 1986 debut LP Swass spent a lot of time in the cassette player of my ’84 Mustang when I was in high school.  He did shows on back-to-back nights at the intimate Nectar Lounge (max capacity 400) in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood last weekend and we had a blast at the Saturday night gig.  In addition to some new stuff, Mix gave us a ton of classics like “Testarossa”, “Beepers”, “My Hooptie”, “Swass”, and even a little “Buttermilk Biscuits”.  Of course he also played his mega-hit “Baby Got Back”, but as a Seattleite and long-time Sir Mix-A-Lot fan there was one song I HAD to hear, and he gave it to us – “Posse on Broadway”.  Rest assured Mix fans, he’s still got it.  Posse up!

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
2.  Daybreak Records, Seattle
3.  Disko Obscura, New Orleans
4.  Skully’z Recordz, New Orleans
5.  Extremem Noise Records, Minneapolis

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Smekkleysa, Reykjavik
4.  Tempo Musica, Buenos Aires
5.  Reykjavik Flea Market

easystreetcornell

I swear, much of these lists don’t change don’t change from year to year.  It would be a weird for Easy Street not to be #1 for me in North America given how often we go there, though the relatively new Daybreak Records definitely gives Easy Street a run for its money in the area of used vinyl.  Our trip to New Orleans didn’t yield a ton of music, but Disko Obscura’s collection of great synth albums was well worth the visit and the guy over at Skully’z turned us on to Space Cadaver and some good punk and metal stuff, which was cool.  I’ve been to Minneapolis a bunch of times, but somehow never made it to Extreme Noise, an oversight I was glad to correct this year – tons of great punk and metal there.  We have a trips to Portland (OR) and Denver already on the books for the first half of 2018, so I definitely have some more good record shopping in my future.

We didn’t do as much international travel this year has we have in the recent past, only visiting two countries – Iceland and Argentina (hard to say we “only” got to take two international trips this year… we’re super-fortunate to be able to travel as much as we do). Unfortunately the one thing we found to be expensive in Argentina was vinyl, which was seemingly completely out of whack with reality.  I found some exciting early punk stuff, but at $150+ per record US I just couldn’t do it.  I broke down and picked up a couple of titles, but our best success was in the tiny Tempo Musica where we loaded up on local CDs thanks to a lot of help from the owner (and some recommendations from a couple of guys working at a food truck earlier in the day!).  The rest of the shops are all in Reykjavik and you’ve likely heard me prattle on about them endlessly in the past, but all are great places to check out should you find yourself in Iceland.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti
  2. Lou Reed:  A Life by Anthony DeCurtis
  3. Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 by Cyn Collins
  4. Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone
  5. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

artsexmusic

I didn’t do as much music reading this year as I have in years past – probably only 7-8 books total.  That being said, I’m comfortable in recommending all of these to you.  Art Sex Music is head and shoulders above the rest, giving us as it does a glimpse into the 1970s experimental scene in the UK by Throbbing Gristle member and artist Cosey Fanni Tutti.  Tutti isn’t afraid to let us know anything about her life and art, and her seemingly near-complete transparency makes for a powerful, if at times sad, read.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her work.  DeCurtis’ book on Lou Reed was deeply researched and I was primarily drawn to the more pure biographical aspects of the narrative, not so much the minutiae of Reed’s individual releases.  Complicated Fun is an entertaining and informative oral history of the Minneapolis scene, one that in many ways is reminiscent of Seattle’s, while the last two are entertaining first person tellings of hard punk rock lives.  It also features our very own Kevin Cole from Seattle’s KEXP radio, as Kevin was a noted DJ and record store owner in Minneapolis during the era.  it’s a small, small world.

 

Well, there you have it, my faithful readers.  Thank you, as always, for your support and comments.  While at times the pure need to write overwhelms me to the point where I feel like it’s something I have to do in order to not spontaneously combust, Life in the Vinyl Lane doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s put me in touch with some amazing people over the years, perhaps no year more so than 2017.  And it’s these connections that make it a truly special experience.  So no matter where you’re reading this, I say “thank you”, and I’ll see you in 2018!

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Day 4

It’s 10:30AM Sunday in Reykjavik, and I’m tired.  Like really, really tired.  When the cathedral bells of Hallkrimskirkja started going off like crazy I was afraid we’d slept until Noon.  Though on second thought that sounds like a pretty great idea.  Saturday feels like it was Day 4 of Airwaves… of Airwaves 2016 because it seems like so long ago.

We made two off-venue stops yesterday.  The first was to catch Lady Boy Records electronic band Panos from Komodo playing at a Salvation Army second-hand store.  We didn’t realize that these dudes are also the guitarist and bassist for Godchilla, who we saw on Friday. (♠)  Their lo-fi electronica set was both fun and funny, and their cover of Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” done entirely off key was something to behold.  I felt a little bad for the old guy in the store who just wanted to buy a hat, but hey, whatever.  Later we rolled over to KEX Hostel with the intention of seeing the ambient black metal band GlerAkur, but truth be told their soundcheck, which featured FIVE guitarists, was simply too loud.  I know, I know… “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”  Fine.  I’m too old.  And I didn’t bring ear protection and would like to still be able to hear when I’m actually old.  You know, back when I was your age…

For dinner we made our annual stop at Shalimar for Pakistani food, then it was off to the Reykjavik Art Museum for the best, most stacked card of the night.  Six bands, five of which we know and four of which we’re big fans of.  We staked out a little corner nook in front of the soundboard area that put us in the heart of the action, about 50 feet from the stage in the long Art Museum room.

We basically stayed in that exact same spot for the next 6.5 hours.  First up was the female-fronted metal band Hórmónar (below).  Their lead singer’s voice was worse for wear after multiple shows during the festival, but she was a trooper and fought through it as the rest of the band compensated by turning the volume knobs to 11. (♣)  We saw them last year and they were one of the surprise new bands of the festival.  But a year later we experienced a much more confident group with a great stage presence, one that wasn’t just winging it but knew exactly what they wanted to do.

IMG_1195 copy

That brought us to Auður and his hyper-sexualized brand of electronic R&B.  We saw `Auður last year and were impressed with his chutzpa when he introduced the crowd to his mother, telling us this was her first time seeing him perform live and they proceeding to sing a song that very explicitly told us EXACTLY what he wanted to do to a girl, with liberal use of the F word.  That being said, his music is excellent and he’s got a great voice.  Unfortunately we’re thinking there were some kind of technical problems because 10 minutes before his set was scheduled to end and out of the blue he went all Pete Townshend on his guitar.  It didn’t break the first time, which had to hurt his hands and arms like hell, but the second attempt blew it up pretty good.  He then stormed off stage, to the seeming surprise of his electronics guy who stood there for a good 15-20 seconds before slowly closing his laptop and walking off.  Fufanu followed, playing quite a bit of material off their 2017 album Sports.  The band was tight and continues to impress as they’ve matured.  There were some technical difficulties, but the upside from my perspective is that we got to hear the title track twice.  I’m wondering if similar technical problems didn’t contribute to the untimely demise of Auður’s guitar.  RIP Auður’s guitar; we hardly knew ye.

Then came the doom metal juggernaut that is HAM (below).  We are HAM!  This was the fourth time I’ve seen a full HAM set, and the fourth time they assimilated my being into he collective known as HAM.  We are HAM!  HAM brought it hard, with a few new tracks but also classics like “Dauð Hóra” and “Partíbær”.  The intensity of the pit grew over the course of the set as more and more horns were thrown and by the closing number the area in front of the stage more resembled a riot than a concert.  All another day in the life of one of Iceland’s first metal bands.  If HAM is playing live at Airwaves, I’ll always try to catch them at least once.

IMG_1211 copy

After the HAM show my buddy turned to me and said, “I kind of wish we could fast forward past this next band and get to Gusgus”.  I understand the sentiment in that we were all really looking forward to a 90 minute Gusgus set, but I was intrigued by the fact that the next band was from Mali.  How did they end up on this card?  Well, I still don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is that Songhoy Blues (below) reminded us why we spent all that money and flew all those miles to get to Reykjavik with their incredibly high energy and super positive vibe set of afro-funk-rock.  The crowd ate it up, and I for one will be ordering their new album Résistance when we return home.

airwaves17day43

And that, my friends, brings us to Gusgus (below).  A stripped down version of Gusgus this time around, with only Biggi and Daniel on stage.  And they killed it for 90 minutes with a combination of somewhat recent material, most of it from 24/7 forward and including what I believe were some new numbers from the upcoming album.  It was a nearly non-stop river of music flowing over us, with the guys building and building the tension before finally giving us the release of the drop.  They were in top form, and while we were staggeringly tired when we walked out the door at 2AM I’m sure we’d have stayed another hour if they’d kept going.

airwaves17day44

Last night at the Art Museum was one of the all-time great start-to-finish lineups we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  It’ll take a few days or weeks to reflect to truly make that decision in my mind, as it’s too easy in the emotions of the moment to say “this is the most amazing moment ever”, forgetting that it’s not the first time you’ve felt this way.

There isn’t a lot of interest on the schedule tonight, but you never know what Airwaves has in store for you…

(♠) Which, to my sleep-deprived mind, seems like three years ago.

(♣) And they still weren’t even remotely as loud as GlerAkur.