Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson – “OK Computer Music” (2019)

We don’t get a lot of snow in Seattle.  Some winters it doesn’t snow at all, and when it does we typically only get an inch or two.  Those paltry inches, however, are enough to shut down half the city for a day as we simply don’t have the infrastructure to handle it.

Last Sunday it started snowing in the afternoon, and by the time I got up on Monday morning there were five inches of the white stuff on my car with more still falling.  I think we topped out at around six inches at my house.  While the roads weren’t great, by Tuesday it was at least possible to get around.  But then came the news that we’d be getting more of it on Friday – four to eight inches worth.  That prompted the usual jokes in Seattle.  “Well I guess that means we’ll have somewhere between zero and 100 inches then”.  The weather here is notoriously difficult to predict, and we never let the forecasters forget it.

It showed for a bit yesterday but seemed to fade out in the evening.  I still wasn’t surprised, however, to wake up to find about six more inches of powder covering everything, a sheet of white outside my living room window, the tall pines with their branches hanging low under the weight of it.  Thankfully it’s Saturday so we have nowhere we need to be.  And since we have power that means I can make coffee, turn on the icicle Christmas lights we still have hanging in the living room, and bask in the quietness while I listen to OK Computer Music on low volume so as to not disturb the hibernating Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane.

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I just got my copy of OK Computer Music in the mail from Sigmarsson, a CD in a limited edition of 100 copies.  Last year I wrote about his works The Found Tapes (2016) and Abstract Art Automat (2018), as well as some of his work as part of Stilluppsteypa including last year’s Beach Jolanda.  The man is nothing if not prolific, both individually and as a collaborator.

OK Computer Music is composed as a single 47 minute track.  Within that composition are different segments that can be differentiated from one another.  Calling those segments songs seems like a bit of a misnomer, as they don’t adhere to any structural format or follow any set rules, at least not from an outside perspective.  The quieter passages are particularly enjoyable, painting a mood that seems to cover this dimly lit room in a gossamer layer of somberness, the occasional vocal sounds subdued like quiet chorus making its way to you from the other side of an old stone cathedral, electronic music that somehow also feels old.

Sigmarsson’s music certainly has abstract and experimental elements to it, and OK Computer Music is no exception.  Personally I find his work quite musical – it’s only in the way the various elements interact that things fall outside of the norm.  I suspect that for albums like this the listener’s personal experiences have just as strong if not stronger influence over their perceptions than do Sigmarsson’s own intentions.  Parts of OK Computer Music slide into the background as I listen, while others seem to leap out of the speakers and compel me to turn and look, as if somehow seeing the speakers will explain what is causing these sensations in my mind and body.  And I’d be willing to bet the passages that don’t capture me have the totally opposite effect on others, hence the sense that this is music that allows the listener to connect with it in their own way.  And that, my friends, is OK Computer Music‘s beautiful secret.

Kuldaboli – “Ég elska þig eilífa stríð” (2018)

kuldaboliegelskaI’m starting to wonder if Kuldaboli is actively trying to avoid having his releases appear in my year-end Top 5 list.  For the second time in three years he dropped something in mid-to-late December, ensuring that I wouldn’t hear it in time for it to be considered.  In 2016 it was the brilliant CD Vafasamur Lífsstíll 2015-2016, and last year (all of about six weeks ago…) it was the five-song 12″ Ég elska þig eilífa stríð.  Having met him once in person, I feel comfortable this isn’t true – it’s not like he took a swing at me or told me my taste sucks or kicked my dog.  But damn, these late-in-the-year releases are killer.  Maybe I just need to start doing Google searches for “Kuldaboli” starting on December 1 every year, and keep searching every day until I post my year-end lists.  It’s the only chance I have.

Ég elska þig eilífa stríð sees Kuldaboli at his electro-creepy best, with sinister beats, eerily high synths, and heavily modulated vocals.  Most of it is dance floor ready, though “Leyndarmál” spins out a religious-gothic-horror vibe that would be the perfect soundtrack to an exorcism.  You can listen to all five tracks on Soundcloud HERE, at least for the time being.  I particularly recommend the aforementioned “Leyndarmál” and the opening cut “Trúðu þínum eigin augum”.

The Sugarcubes Family Tree – A Punk Rock (His and Her)-story

harmonyencyclopediaBack when I was in high school, when things were simpler and we were all more afraid of dying in a nuclear war than from slowly destroying the planet through sheer negligence and indifference, I bought a book called The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, which might be the least rock book title of all time.  Published in 1986, the year that opened with the Miami Vice Soundtrack topping the Billboard charts and also saw the last album by an experimental weirdo-fest called KUKL (<– this will be relevant later!), this large format book is full of color photos and some surprisingly good band bios and discographies.  I read and re-read it constantly, and in that pre-internet era it pointed me towards quite a few artists and albums that I would have never been aware of otherwise.  One of the cool things inside is a series of band “family trees” by artist Pete Frame that trace the development of, and often intertwined relationships between, various bands.  I found these endlessly interesting, whether they traced the complex inter-minglings of CSNY / The Byrds / The Eagles / Flying Burrito Brothers or Roxy Music / King Crimson.  I could follow the threads for hours.  Surprisingly I still have the book, thought it seems almost quaint now when I can look up just about anything I’d ever want to know on my phone.

On a seemingly unrelated note, if you read Life in the Vinyl Lane with any frequency you’ll known I’m a fan of the Iceland music scene.  What’s strange about that, though, is that I was never into the Sugarcubes or Björk’s solo stuff (or the ultra-popular Sigur Rós for that matter).  I doubt I’ve heard all the Sugarcube albums all the way through (though I am listening to Stick Around For Joy as I write this), and I’ve probably only heard three Björk solo records, including the one she did when she was something like 11 years old.  So I came to Icelandic music from a weird direction.  But I am a big fan of some of Björk’s early work with bands like KUKL and Tappi Tíkarrass, as well as most of the rest of the early Icelandic punk scene.  And one thing I found over time is that like those bands in Frame’s family trees, there was a lot of overlap within that scene, much of it eventually converging with the Sugarcubes.  So much so that one day I decided I’d try to do a Sugarcubes family tree just to see what it would look like.

Turns out it was a lot of work.  And pretty interesting as well, pointing me to some bands like Exem that I’d never heard of before.  I probably got some stuff on here wrong too.  Sorry about that.  I did the best I could with what I had available to me.  So if you see something missing or incorrect, hit me up and I’ll try to fix it.  Or maybe I won’t.  I don’t know. (♣)

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We start with five bands at the top level, including what are arguably “The Big 3 Bands In Icelandic Punk” – Purrkur Pillnikk, Tappi Tíkarrass, and Þeyr.  The little-known (outside of Iceland, at least) Fan Houtens Kókó also play an important part.  The fifth is a bit of an outlier.  No one from Spilafífl actually played in the Sugarcubes, but member Birgir Mogensen was in the pre-Sugarcubes outfit KUKL, plus he played bass on the track “Emotional Swing” from the one and only album released by Með Nöktum, a band that included Magnús Guðmundsson, formerly of Þeyr, as one of its core members.

Confused yet?  I am a little.  Leaving aside all the ancillary bands, let’s just hone in on KUKL, the bands that more or less morphed into the Sugarcubes.  Members originally connected as part of a radio broadcast, which led to a 7″ single called Söngull in 1983, right around the same time that Iceland’s first generation of punk bands ended their runs.  All five of the bands on the top of the tree contributed at least one member to KUKL:

  • Birgir Mogensen from Spilafífl
  • Einar Melax from Fan Houtens Kókó
  • Einar Örn from Purrkur Pillnikk
  • Björk from Tappi Tíkarrass
  • Siggi Baldursson from Þeyr
  • Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson (credited variously on KUKL releases… including God Krist, Gud Krist, and Guð Krist) from Þeyr

Óttarsson later performed as part of a duo with Björk called Elgar Sisters.  Other members of KUKL participated on some of the Elgar Sister recordings, as did other local musicians.  The Elgar Sisters recorded 11 tracks, one of which called “Patré” appeared on the label comp tape New Icelandic Music in 1987, while a few others snuck onto various solo releases over the years.

(Taking a breath and switching over to listen to KUKL’s The Eye as I continue to go cross-eyed trying to keep all these pieces together in my mind.  It’s disjointedness is fitting for this topic.)

So the last KUKL album, Holidays In Europe (The Naughty Nought), comes out in 1986, and then no more KUKL.  But have no fear, my friends, because now we have the Sugarcubes, who blew up with the song “Birthday”.  For the band’s first album, in were former KUKL members Siggi, Einar, and Björk, joined by Þór Eldon, previously of Fan Houtens Kókó (yup, there’s Fan Houtens Kókó again…) and Bragi Ólafsson, who had been part of Íkarus alongside Kormákur Geirharðsson who was best known for being part of the  early-1980s punk band Taugadeildin.  Out were the other three, though they later re-connected as Exem in the mid-1990s.  Keyboard player Margrét Örnólfsdóttir rounded out the Sugarcubes after that first album and remained with them until the end.

So there you have it.  The story of the Sugarcubes as the story of five early 1980s punk bands.  And that doesn’t even touch on some of the other combos that emerged from that scene.  It was all pretty intertwined, really, but given the small size of the musical community at the time, it makes sense.

I know this might have been overly brief, since I didn’t give you a bunch of band histories and such.  However, I’ve written about most of them before, so follow the links on this post to get to more info about those bands and dive deeper into the history.

(♣)  OK, so when Einar Örn Facebook messages you and tells you that you got something wrong, you fix it!  Thanks Einar for clarifying the various iterations of the “God Krist” credit on the KUKL releases.

(♠) Oh, and in case you were wondering, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock doesn’t include a single artist or band from Iceland.  The closest it gets is showing a picture from the Echo & The Bunnymen photo shoot at Gullfoss, the shoot that resulted in the cover of their 1983 album Porcupine.

Skaði – “Jammið” Cassette (2018)

skadijammidSkaði is Skaði Þórðardóttir, artist, performer, and musician.  Her new release Jammið opens with “Skaði Manifesto”, burning like a long fuse, horns on the occasional bongo blending into the pulsing electro goodness.  That underlying sensuality is a theme throughout, whether on the more uptempo “Jamma”, or the Eastern-influenced “Romance in the Chillroom”, or the Western guitar infused “The Vacuum of the Heart”.  She reaches across genres and geography for the bits and pieces to make each track distinctive, while still maintaining the continuity necessary to define her own particular style.

Jammið is available for streaming on the FALK Bandcamp page HERE, and they still have copies of the limited edition (of 50) cassette.