Hórmónar – “Nanananabúbú” (2018)

We first encountered Hórmónar at Iceland Airwaves in 2016.  They were fresh off their win at Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual “Battle of the Bands”, a competition that has launched some pretty decent careers over the last decade or so.  We were in a small club and this was one of their first live performances.  You could tell that they were a bit nervous, but also see that they were having a lot of fun.  We enjoyed their hard rock stylings and vowed to keep tabs on them.

Fast forward one year later and nervousness and swinging hair were gone, replaced by a heavy dose of swagger and L7-like intensity.  Gone too was that hard rock sound, replaced by something that was both more punk and more metal at the same time.  The photographic evidence is below.  I’ll let you make the call (top – 2016; bottom – 2017):

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The band’s debut was a four-song self-titled EP in 2016, which they followed with a full-length in August of this year.  The 11-song Nanananabúbú includes the four tracks from the original EP, but I believe all four were completely re-recorded for their latest effort.  The entire album has an insistent quality to it, a sort of underlying anxiety like a band that has so much they want to play for you but they’re afraid if they don’t get it out there quickly they might somehow lose the whole thing, like trying to hold onto a fistful of sand and watching as it runs through your fingers no matter how hard you try to keep a grip on it.  Highlights include the alternating passion and gloom of “Költ”, the stripped-down rocker “Kynsvelt”, and the oddly playful “Glussi”.

Nanananabúbú was released on CD as a limited edition of 100, but I haven’t seen that offered for sale anywhere so my guess is they’re long since sold out.  But have no fear, because you can still get the album via digital download from the Hórmónar Bandcamp page HERE.  While that is my format of last resort, I still broke down and purchased a digital copy because that’s how good it is.

Hatari – “Neysluvara” (2017)

From Iceland Music’s recent interview with the band Hatari:

Interviewer:  What is Hatari?

Response:  Hatari is a multimedia project that aims to reveal the relentless scam that we call everyday life.

Interviewer:  What is everyday life?

Response:  It is an ongoing parade in which we all take part.  A hyper-individualistic… pit… where our identities are commodities and mechanisms of social cohesion are systematically undermined.

Using music as a method for socio-political commentary is, of course, nothing new.  But this level of clarity is perhaps a but unusual.  The English language Reykjavik Grapevine asked Hatari for an interview to be included in their special Iceland Airwaves 2017 edition, and the band responded instead with a page-long passage from Noam Chomsky about neoliberalism.  They offer critiques of the capitalist system they find themselves living in, yet still release a physical album, a four-song CD that was selling for 2.500 kr (♠) and unabashedly entitled Neysluvara, which translates to Consumer.  The packaging is unique and thoughtful, as is the well-designed insert booklet.  There’s an acknowledgement on their part that these two parts of their project, the political and the commercial, on the surface appear to be at odds, but note that they themselves have grown up in this capitalist system and as a result are a part of it whether they want to be or not.  They dress in what could be described as fascist bondage chic. Their lyrics are dark and so are their videos.

And they put out what may very well be the very best album put out by anyone, anywhere, in any genre in 2017. (♥)

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There was a lot of chatter about Hatari’s live show as Airwaves 2017 got underway, and while we’d never heard their music we made a point of getting to Gamla Bíó early on Thursday, November 2 so we could stake out a good spot to catch the performance.  And right from the very start we knew we were in for something special.  The audience was rapt and the performance was, quite frankly, flawless.  There were costumes and great music and dancers dressed like the walked off the set of The Road Warrior who had fanny packs full of lollypops that they tossed into the crowd.  Musically it was IDM at its finest – it didn’t even matter that the vocals were all sung in Icelandic, because the cadence and venom with which they were delivered told you everything you needed to know.

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Shriveled fruits of vanished expectations
Keep the riffraff enraptured.
Spiritual bankruptcy
Sucks the marrow from initiative
And suffocates it in bitterness.
— “X” (translated from Icelandic)

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Neysluvara opens with “X”, a song that, based on lyrical translation, is a screed against the  rich and powerful who use their power to keep the majority down, scratching away to barely make enough to survive.  “Our daily bread / Is salt in our wounds”, we’re told in a raspy delivery over dark IDM beats.  “Tortímandi” (which translates to “Destroy”) maintains to pounding assault, but with the addition of some higher range harmonies that soar about the wall of pain the rest of the song delivers.  Things let off just a little on “Biðröð Mistaka” (“Queue Mistake”) with a less oppressive song foundation and more room for the higher pitch vocals to own an entire part, almost giving a sense of hope before the final third kicks in and the primary vocals pound the now-whispy higher ones into submission.  The EP closes with “Ódýr” (“Cheap”), and here again we gain the benefit of translated lyrics that accompany the video.  The pace here is much slower, the vocals more pained and desperate.

The years slip from you like breadcrumbs tossed in the trash.
They pile up on the heaps of broken dreams.
You look back and think:
Why did I sell myself –
Why did I sell myself –
So cheap?

It’s a fitting end, like a resigned sigh as life comes to an end and you realize your mistakes.   Certainly you can listen to Neysluvara as a treatise on nihilism, but in fact I think it’s the opposite, instead a call to recognize what’s happening and do something about it.  The what, of course, is entirely up to you; but as they say, the first part in finding a solution is recognizing that you have a problem.

I can’t praise Neysluvara enough.  I’ve played it at least 20 times, if not more, since our return from Iceland in early November, and as I mentioned earlier it will definitely appear on my Top 5 list for 2017.  Tracking down a copy may prove to be tough, but I believe you can access all four tracks at the band’s website HERE and leave you with the video for “X” below.

(♠)  Roughly $25 US.

(♥)  You’ll just have to come back to the blog on December 25 when I post my “Best of 2017” lists to see just how highly I regard Neysluvara.

Revenge of Calculon

By time Sunday rolled around during Iceland Airwaves we were all pretty well spent.  Holly was under the weather, we’d all been out super late the night before, and the weather had taken the kind of turn for the worse that the North Atlantic specializes in, that amazing combination of cold, heavy rain, and high winds that will leave you soaked (♠) and chilled to the bone within 60 seconds of stepping outside.  Since there wasn’t anything compelling on-venue closing out the festival we all strongly considered just sitting it out and chilling in our apartment, but I had that itch… I really wanted to see old school punks Fræbbblarnir who were playing an off-venue early evening set in the upstairs room at Dillon.  What eventually sealed the deal was that they were to be followed by a band called Revenge of Calculon who my buddy Ingvar insisted I had to see.  So Norberto, J and I braved the elements, got soaked to the bone on the four-block walk to Dillon, and caught Fræbbblarnir, who packed the joint full of locals and played a fun set.  When they wrapped we were able to grab some seats right by the stage and I got the chance to meet Life in the Vinyl Lane reader Paul in person after we’d been missing each other all over town during the week.

And then Revenge of Calculon hit the stage.  Wearing track suits.  And lucha libre masks.  And shit got weird.

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Revenge of Calculon come at you with one guy on the electronics and one guy playing funky bass, the music like the soundtrack of a 1970s blaxploitation sci-fi movie (♥), all bleeps and bloops and funky bass and audio clips from old films and TV.  They tore it up at high velocity and had a good sense of humor when their equipment suddenly went dead for a couple of moments during their set (did I mention the roof of Dillon leaks, and it was raining, and that water was dripping near the stage…?).  It was one of the two or three best performances I saw all week, and after the set I bought both 7″ records the band had on them, for which I was rewarded with my very own lucha libre mask!  As soon as we got home I ordered their other two singles as well – they were so good I wanted to have everything they had out. (♦)

The pace of the singles is more deliberate than that of the live performance, but the elements are all there and it’s funky as hell – if anything the studio versions are a bit heavier than the sheer recklessness of the live tracks.  “Hot Dog Man” b/w “Atari-Safari” is some radical stuff and my favorite of the four records, the closest you’ll get to their live craziness, feeling like it could all come off the rails at any moment, or at least that’s how you feel until you realize that in fact there probably aren’t any rails to begin with. “Meltdown” b/w “Neutron Star” is another great combo, particularly the B side with its vampire-movie-esque opening followed by a blend of creepy electronics, jamming bass, and hyper-modulated vocalizations that make it feel like you’re watching three different movies at once that somehow all seem to fit together like the pieces of a luchador’s mask.

All four singles are available on the band’s website HERE, and there’s a bunch of YouTube videos of their music you can check out.  My favorite, though, is the one they shot, edited, and released within a couple of days of their Airwaves off-venue show at Lucky Records – check it out below.  Beware the Revenge of Calculon… and watch out for vinyl with wet spines (see the 0:24 mark)…

(♠)  Though if you keep walking in the same direction, you’ll end up soaked on one side of your body and completely dry on the other since the rain is coming down at a 45 degree angle.  it’s weird.

(♥)  I know that’s not a real genre, but let’s be real – if Fred Williamson or Richard Roundtree or Pam Grier starred in a 1970s sci-fi movie you’d be all over that thing.

(♦) I believe there is also a five-song CD.

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Reflections

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Our 9th consecutive Airwaves is in the books.  Will we make it a nice round 10 next year?  I’m not sure, but things are leaning towards “no” as I have some work commitments that all come to a head right when Airwaves 2018 starts.  But that’s a big unknown at this point, and I’m still basking in the afterglow of a pretty solid festival.

On the surface this year’s lineup looked a bit soft – a lot of the big-name Icelandic acts that normally play Airwaves weren’t there this year, which was a bit of a bummer.  But it also meant that we’d see a lot more new-to-us bands, and that’s always an exciting prospect. And those bands delivered, some of them in pretty massive ways.

The move away from Harpa was a good one, IMO, bringing the festival back to it’s small-club-hopping roots.  I was bummed to walk past NASA last week only to see a crew literally in the process of demolishing it… I guess 2016 was truly the last hurrah of what I thought was Reykjavik’s best music venue.  I should have tried to snag something as a memento, but honestly seeing it like that was just plain sad.  The Hard Rock adds a nice new and suitably-sized location though, and Gamla Bíó is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues.  And, as usual, KEX Hostel and KEXP put on a fantastic off-venue lineup (like Russia’s ГШ/Glintshake shown below).  The only negative thing at all I can say about the KEX shows is that many of them are insanely packed; but that the way it is – they’re open to everyone, with or without a wristband.  We just get there early, grab some beers, and stake out our spots.

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I feel like I didn’t buy as much music this year as I have in years past, though in reality I still came home with a ton of stuff, including more than the normal amount of CDs as the flea market was VERY good for CD digging this year.  Of the 20 or so 12″ and dozen 7″ records I brought back, at least half were new-ish releases, whereas the CDs were almost all used and 10+ years old.  While we returned home on Monday evening, I also took Tuesday off from work and used that time, in part, to clean records and listen to CDs.  I’ve got so much incredible music to get to and share with you that I’m actually slightly anxious about how much stuff is on my To-Listen-To shelf.  But I know I’m up to the challenge!

So… on to my “Best of Airwaves 2017” list!

Best Venue:  There was a fair amount of competition in this category.  This was the first year we’d seen shows at the Hard Rock and the upstairs room of Dillon, and we saw some solid shows in each.  KEX Hostel was great as always, as was Gamla Bíó, and the Dr. Spock show at Húrra was off the charts.  But I have to pick one, so I’m going with Gamla Bíó.  It’s a great space, the stage is high enough that you can see the musicians even if the floor is packed and you’re short, and the sound was near-perfect.  Add to that the fact that we saw unquestionably the best show of the festival there (more on that below), I’m giving Gamla Bíó the crown for 2017 with an honorable mention to that tiny, crammed room at the top of Dillon (leaky roof and all…) where we saw some outstanding shows with a fun mix of locals and visitors.  We’ll make sure Dillon is in the regular rotation in the future.

Best Show:  There were a few legitimate contenders for this award, but I’m going with the freak-fest that Hatari (below) put on at Gamla Bíó on Thursday night.  Bondage gear, spiked masks, dancers who came straight off the Road Warrior movie set… it was a feast for the eyes and flowed perfectly with Hatari’s brand of in-your-face IDM.  The best one-word description I can provide is “captivating”; you simply couldn’t take your eyes off of what was happening on the stage.  The room was completely packed and it was apparent that the band had everyone’s rapt attention.  It’s easy to ride the emotional high of a recent show and say “that was the best show ever”, but I think the last five days has given me a bit of perspective and… that was the best show I’ve ever seen at Airwaves!  Holy crap it was fantastic.  Right up there with Gusgus at NASA in ’09 and FM Belfast at NASA in ’10.  It was the kind of show that makes me re-think both music and performance.

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Best New-To-Me Band:  Given what I just wrote above the obvious answer here is Hatari.  However, I’d like to recognize another band that absolutely crushed it, one that also put on a crazed live performance, and since it’s my blog, that’s what I’m gonna do.

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We only saw three bands on Sunday.  Frankly we almost came away only seeing one because a storm blew into town and the rain was coming down sideways in the early evening, but we decided to tough it out and head to Dillon in the late afternoon and it was there that we experienced the self-described “Lo-Fi Electro Funk Luchadors” that are Revenge of Calculon (right).  This had lots of elements that I love – sampling from movie clips, synths, electronic weirdness, funky bass, and luchador masks.  These dudes from the UK killed it, then brought it back to life with the power of funk.  It was a great performance on every level and I bought a some 7″ singles from the band after the show… and they even threw in a luchador mask!  Hail Calculon!

Coolest Music Purchase(s):  From a rarity standpoint I was glad to get my hands on a copy of Drýsill’s 1985 metal record Welcome to the Show, which is legitimately tough to find.  Same goes for The Magnetics’ 1981 synth record A Historical Glimpse of the Future. From a pure listening standpoint I was actually most excited about running across not one but two CDs from Bubbleflies and a comp by OG punks Fan Houtens Kókó called Gott Bít.  I played all three today, and at a combined cost of about 20 bucks I couldn’t be happier/

Biggest Regret:  I wanted to go see FM Belfast at the Art Museum on Friday night, but bottom line is I lacked the energy.  Our friends Norberto and J went and said it was awesome, and I’m 100% sure it was.  Fortunately we’ve seen them a number of times in the past, so I don’t feel too guilty about missing this set.

 

We’re not sure what next year has in store for us, and whether or not those plans include Reykjavik.  One thing is for certain, though – 2017 won’t be our last Iceland Airwaves.  With so many great friends in Iceland, and more joining the family every year, I just know that we’ll be back.  So Reykjavik, keep the lights on for us, and keep pumping out all of that great music.

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Day 5

We didn’t do much on the final day of Iceland Airwaves this year.  A big storm blew through town so it was both rainy and windy, and frankly we were all a bit spent after the marathon session at the Art Museum the night before.  We caught a few songs by the synth-punk performer Rex Pistols over at Lucky Records early in the day before hunkering down for a bit to hide from the weather.  Finally we got a bit stir crazy and popped over to Dillon to catch a few early evening sets.

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In keeping with the old school Icelandic punk vibe the first show we saw at Dillon was by Fræbbblarnir, who may very well be the first punk outfit ever in Iceland.  The band was tight and played a fun set.  It felt like most of the folks crammed into the upstairs room at Dillon were locals, because they seemed to know the words to most of their songs.  After their set I finally connected with Life in the Vinyl Lane reader Paul, which was cool – it’s always fun to meet IRL with blog readers!  Next up was the UK two-man Revenge of Calculon (above), who describe their style as “luchador fat-bass & dirt-synth duo”, which pretty much summed them up perfectly.  With nothing but synths, bass, and samples they absolutely crushed it B-movie funk style.  I picked up a couple of their 7″ records from the guys after the show and I’ll be ordering the others online as soon as we get back to Seattle.  It was a perfect way to end the festival.

I think the final count for me was 44 shows by 43 different artists.  A lot of folks hit Airwaves and try to make as many shows as humanly possible, and I totally respect that.  Had we gone that route we certainly could have seen more bands.  But at the same time Airwaves is also a vacation for us so we don’t want to force ourselves to see stuff when we’re not feeling it.  And after eight Airwaves in a row we’ve figured out how we like to experience the festival, so we did it our way and enjoyed it.  Due to some work commitments in 2018 we’re not sure we’re going to be able to come back next year… we’ll just have to wait and see.  Fortunately we’ll have some positive memories to carry us through!