Þeyr – “Þagað Í Hel” (1980)

I spent a few decades actively involved in the sports memorabilia world, both as a collector and a seller.  In fact my dad owned and operated a baseball card shop in the 1990s back when that was actually something you could earn a living at.  I’ve attended shows and conventions in at least a half dozen states plus Canada.  I’m not active in it any more – I sold off most of my stuff over the years, and at least some of that money ended up going to records.

But that’s not why I’m bringing up my hobby history.  It’s because the sports memorabilia world was the first place I heard people refer to “The Holy Grail”, or often simply “Grail”, in a context that didn’t involve blood and wine.  Back in the day auction catalogs constantly tried to outdo each other in hyperbole, and one of the ways they’d do that was to refer to a rare or valuable item as “The Holy Grail of [fill in the blank]”, with [fill in the blank] replaced by “Tobacco Cards” or “Babe Ruth Cards” or “Hall of Fame Autographs” or “Greg Jeffries Donruss Rookie Cards”. (♠)  Generally the term was used to describe the best of something.

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In the record collecting world the term Grail is used in a similar way, but one that is more personal.  It’s not unusual for a collector to as another “what’s your Grail”, meaning the record that you desperately desire but don’t have either due to cost or scarcity, the record that always seems to have been found by someone else 15 minutes before you got to the shop or show, your elusive vinyl nemesis.  I don’t think I’ve had a Grail per se since getting back into vinyl, but the closest album is probably Þeyr 1980 debut Þagað Í Hel.  It’s the one album that I’ve actually told people, “if you ever get a copy of this for sale, put it aside because I’ll 100% buy it”.  It’s the only album I ever marked as a “Want” on Discogs.  And I haven’t seen one for sale anywhere since I started looking a few years back.  Sure, an acquaintance on Facebook had a line on one for a while, but that fell through, and apparently I was a few weeks too late to Reykjavik Record Shop a few years ago and a collector from Japan walked out with their copy.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been actively looking for it, but I’d also say I put more effort into trying to find a copy than I have for any other record.

And about two weeks ago I got an automated email from Discogs letting me know that a seller just posted a copy of Þagað Í Hel that day.  Within five minutes of getting that email I ordered it, then endured a painful 10 day wait for it to make it here from Sweden.  On Thursday I snuck out during my lunch break and picked it up at the post office, and today I’ve been sitting here just sort of looking at it, almost afraid to play it.  The collecting drive is often more about the chase than the actual having of the object, a perversely masochistic mindset.  But I can’t put it off any longer.  It’s been cleaned on the Okki Nokki and is ready to hit the turntable.

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Þeyr got their first record deal on the strength of a couple of pop songs they’d written, but when they went into the studio to cut Þagað Í Hel their style changed to something more new wave-ish, so much so that it almost didn’t get released.  Reportedly somewhere between 300 and 500 copies were pressed, and according to legend the masters were destroyed in a fire, which likely explains in part why none of these eight songs ever made it onto CD.

The opening track “En…” is reminiscent of early Talking Heads, followed immediately by the rockabilly-inspired “…Nema Jói”, so clearly there are no rules being followed here.  Which leads us to “Hringt”, adding a sort of disco thing to the mix and starting to give me the sense that Þeyr was still exploring at this point in their trajectory together, not yet having established the more post-punk sound that came to define their handful of later releases (they last performed in 1982 and put out their lasts release, a 7″, in 1983).  By the second half of “Heilarokk” we start to get some glimpse into the direction they eventually went, breaking free of traditional song structures into something unique to Þeyr.  Of course the ABBA-like “Eftir Vígið”, replete with it’s female vocals and harmonies, is like an unexpected bucket of ice cold water on your head.

Þagað Í Hel certainly wasn’t the record I expected, but it does provide some insight into the band’s early influences and is an intriguing starting line when you consider how they sounded on Mjötviður Mær (which was the very first record I ever wrote about on Life in the Vinyl Lane) just a year later.  It remains impossibly hard to find, but fortunately some intrepid souls have recorded these eight tracks and posted them on YouTube!, so if you want to give them a listen just go search there using the album name.

(♠)  No one has ever said this about the 1988 Donruss Greg Jeffries rookie card, at least not with any level of sincerity.  Jeffries was projected by many to be “the new hot rookie”, and that year my dad bought an insane amount of 1988 Donruss baseball cards.  I spent uncountable hours sitting at the small table in his shop going through box after box of these cards, sorting them numerically and putting aside the Jeffries cards.  He went on to be a solid player for a dozen or so seasons, but never became a star and those boxes of Jeffries cards became little more than recycling fodder.  But hey, dad was paying me by the hour, so I was happy to sort, sort, sort…

Þórir Georg – “Fallið Er Dáið” (2019)

thorirgeorgfallidÞórir Georg has a broad musical palette – indie, folk, hardcore, metal… his musical travels are far and wide, and the one thing you always know you’re going to get from Georg is 100% sincerity.  Whatever he is working on at the moment, he’s pouring everything he has into the music.

Georg’s latest release is a 19-minute ambient track recorded on the day he learned of the passing of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith.  Somber ambient, it captures the damp cold of a Reykjavik winter, the wind penetrating even the thickest leather jacket, your pant cuffs soaked and wicking up cold water as you trudge through the few hours of twilight before darkness arrives again.  It’s a reflective piece that captures the sense of loss we feel when someone important to us dies.  It doesn’t matter that we never met them, because their art touched us at times in our lives when that was of paramount importance.  It’s a different kind of mourning than one experiences for a friend or loved one, but a strong feeling nonetheless, one still capable of dampening our mood.

Bluesanct put out Fallið Er Dáið (which translates to The Fall Is Dead) in a limited edition of 50 cassettes.  It’s available both in physical format as well as digital at the label’s Bandcamp page HERE, and you can also listen to the entire thing for free.

John Grant – “Remixes Are Also Magic” (2019)

I debated on whether to join my buddy Travis in line at Easy Street Records today for RSD.  He planned on getting down there at 5AM, two hours before the store’s 7AM opening.  I did it last year and we had a good time (they serve bacon and coffee to those in line), but this year the weather was shit and it had been a long week at work… so the last thing I wanted to do was to wake up at 4:30AM and stand around in a cold Seattle drizzle for a few hours.  Besides, there wasn’t much on the RSD list that excited me.  Holly and I figured we’d sleep in and stop by later in the morning and see what we could snag.

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Fast forward to 9AM and we arrive at Easy Street to find the line is still around the corner and half way around the block… and not moving.  I guess I kind of get it – after all, Pearl Jam’s Live At Easy Street was getting the vinyl treatment for the first time and all the kids in Seattle want to get their hands on a copy.  But I’m mostly ambivalent about PJ, so we went back to Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood and Silver Platters which had just opened for the day but is massive inside, so at least we were in out of the rain and cold.  Holly dropped me off and ran some errands.  I wasn’t even sure I’d buy anything since I couldn’t find the Green River of John Grant albums I wanted, but there was enough to capture my interest and I grabbed a few Madonna 12″ records, a cool Gruppo Sportivo compilation, some dub, a U.K Subs 10″, and the Stiv soundtrack before making my way to the back of the endless line.  Thirty minutes later I was about halfway through when she returned and decided to go double check to see if the A-Ha release was out there somewhere and I had overlooked it.  I hadn’t.  But then she texted me from the other side of the store with a picture of the John Grant record, which I had missed!  Wife points earned.

Unlike so many RSD records Remixes Are Also Magic is a legitimately limited release – only 300 copies of this bad boy were pressed. (♠)  It’s comprised of four remixes of songs from Grant’s last two albums, Gray Tickles, Black Pressure and Love Is Magic.  As an added bonus one of the mixes is by Carter Tutti.  Needless to say it was my best “pick” of the day, even if I wasn’t the one who actually found it.  As an added bonus a sticker on the inner sleeve includes a download code, the ONLY of my RSD purchases to have one.  Why codes aren’t included with all new vinyl, I have no idea.

Nik Colk Void’s spin on “Preppy Boy” is bleepy-bloopy chip-tuney, bouncing up and down like a deranged Q-Bert, offset by foghorn-esque blasts of deep bass.  The whole thing has  a frenetic quality, the build-ups coming on top of what is already a hyperspeed base.  Blancmange’s “Touch and Go” prominently features Grant’s vocals, though with a similar chip-tune approach to what Void did on “Preppy Boy”.  On the B side the Carter Tutti mix of “Grey Tickles, Black Pressure” takes things in a darker and heavier direction, one that befits the original song.  Deep and lush, the mood is somber and serious, the low end pulsing like a heartbeat.  The collection closes out with Anna Meredith’s version of “Voodoo Doll”, it’s simple organ opening with Grant’s voice echoing off in the distance setting the stage for a languid, dreamy journey

Remixes Are Also Magic is a fun re-versioning of some of Grant’s recent tracks, one likely to primarily appeal to the fan of Grant’s more electronic side.  And this one actually is limited, folks, so get it while you can.

(♠) By way of contrast, the two “limited edition” Madonna 12″ records I bought were in editions of 12,500 and 13,000.  Hardly limited by any definition.  Unless of course your definition allows for more something to be limited if you make 13,000 of them…

Muted – “Lizard On Ice” (2013)

mutedlizardI recently listened to and enjoyed Muted’s 2018 album Empire, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of his super-limited (edition of 100) 2013 release Lizard On Ice.  I was intrigued to discover that the two albums are actually quite different.  Whereas the overall chill vibe is somewhat similar, the compositions on Lizard On Ice seem to be briefer, generally leaving me wanting more, even if the more is just more time to enjoy the world Muted created.

Muted describes Lizard On Ice as a hip hop album, and there’s definitely an undercurrent of that genre cut into these grooves, particularly in the beats.  There are also some elements of soul and atmospheric dub.  Things are definitely chill as hell, the perfect record to have on while relaxing and unwinding.

Örmagna – “Örmagna” (2019)

For someone who doesn’t listen to a lot of black metal, I sure seem to buy a lot of the black metal coming out of Iceland.

One of the newest entrants to the scene is Örmagna, a five-piece that has connections to some of the recent greats in Icelandic black metal, including Naðra vocalist Ö handling the vocals and Misþyrming‘s D.G. helping with the mastering.  Similarities, however, pretty much end there.

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Örmagna opens with a brief, distant-sounding and slow instrumental, which initially made me nervous about the sound quality.  Those fears were immediately put to rest when “Háskinn í Seljunum” kicked in and it started to become clear what Örmagna had in store for my ears and my soul, the weight and density taking on an oppressive character and suffocating all hope.  The disconnect between the super-fast black metal drumming and the doom-ish guitars and bass on “Náladoði” offer striking contrasts in both speed and mass, with each side battling for supremacy within the confines of the song, a contrast that shouldn’t work but yet does.

Örmagna is available for listening on Bandcamp HERE.  For the vinyl you’ll need to go to the Signal Rex website to order.  The good news is it’s only €15.  The bad news is they only pressed 250 copies of this bad boy, so you’d better get it while you can.