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.

Stilluppsteypa – “Beach Jolanda” (2018)

I sat down to write this on Saturday morning after an impossibly long and challenging work week.  I managed ten hours of sleep last night, which I desperately needed, but that left me with that weird sort of sleep hangover where you feel like you both got too much sleep and not enough at the same time.  As I sat in front of the computer with my second cup of coffee I looked down and there was a little island of tiny bubbles floating at the top of the magical liquid, still slowly circling the middle of the cup from where I had been stirring it.  And somehow, at that moment, that was the perfect visual accompaniment to the beginning of Stilluppsteypa’s “Wonderful To Communicate”, the momentary pure blending of my foggy state, a cup of coffee, and sound.

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A few months ago Stilluppsteypa released Beach Jolanda, a collection of a dozen tracks recorded between 2006 and 2017.  I picked up a copy via a Facebook post and have been looking forward to giving it a spin.  It’s hard to describe what’s happening on Beach Jolanda.  I suppose the easy word to use is “experimental” in that the compositions generally don’t follow any standard musical flows or patterns, but that sells it a bit short.  This isn’t just some kind of electro-noise album – there’s an intentionality at work.  There’s an overall ambient current that gives the listener a starting point.  From there it undulates in different directions, at times feeling like a field recording (“Denise”), at others like a 1960s sci-fi movie soundtrack on acid. (♠)  And somehow it all seems to fit together.

It’s been over a decade since the last release that came out under only the Stilluppsteypa name – most of the more recent works have been collaborations with BJ Nilsen.  I wonder if it will be the last… we’ll have to wait and see.  The vinyl is limited to 400 copies and can still be found online HERE, so get it while you can.

(♠)  The grooves on the vinyl don’t clearly delineate the songs, and nothing seems to truly end in a conventional way… so while I know this was about half way through side A, I have no idea what track it is.

FM Belfast – “Island Broadcast” (2017)

It may seem weird to blog followers that I haven’t posted about FM Belfast’s most recent album yet.  The reason for this is that I wrote a review of it for the magazine Reykjavik On Stage, and the latest issue finally came out so now I feel OK about posting this on the blog.  If you haven’t checked out Reykjavik On Stage yet, you owe it to yourself to do so HERE – it’s the first English-only magazine devoted to the Icelandic music scene.  So without further ado…

 

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We stopped FM Belfast’s Reykjavik office in November to pick up a copy of the band’s newest album, Island Broadcast. Welcoming us was artist and band member Lóa Hlín Hjálmtýsdóttir, and during the course of our visit we asked what she thought about all the construction cranes visible outside her window and the changes to the downtown cityscape. She compared it to living in the movie Dark City, where every morning you wake up to find that things have been somehow changed overnight and noted, with a sigh, that she missed some of the buildings the same way she would an old friend. That underlying mood can be found throughout Island Broadcast, its beats and chords seemingly slowed down just a bit giving the whole thing a certain languid quality, like being lost in a dream. It would be easy for an album like this to become morose. But that’s not who FM Belfast are. In fact, if there’s one word I would use to describe Island Broadcast, that word is “hope”.

The message of hope is found throughout the lyrics of the album’s 11 songs. Right from the opening track “All My Power” we’re asked to help one another escape the lethargy we feel, “Would you mind / Helping me up / Helping me up / I’ve been in bed all day…”, setting the tone for what’s in store. And if that was too ambiguous for you, the second song “Follow Me” makes it crystal clear: “Don’t give them what they want / They’ll always ask for more / They can’t have you happy / They need your desperation.” But don’t worry my friends, because there is hope, right in the very next verse: “You’re no longer blind / You can follow me / I can open your eyes / You don’t have to be in the dark.”

The lyrics are only one part of the equation, though. You don’t become the world’s best party band without great music, and sonically Island Broadcast provides a level of diversity that is often lacking in electronic-based albums. Certainly the beats are great, but it’s the flourishes that give the songs individual character. Whether that’s the piano on “Up All Night”, the sampling on “Fearless Youth”, or the tropical vibe of the steel drums on “You’re So Pretty”, FM Belfast always find a way to make each song unique. When performed live they pick up the tempo, feeding off the energy of the crowd and transforming the songs from messages of hope to celebrations of it, creating that positive party atmosphere that is like a shot of pure dopamine to the brain.

FM Belfast has given us a gem in Island Broadcast, an album with an important and positive message that’s also a lot of fun to listen to. And what more can you really ask for from your music?

Malneirophrenia – “M-Theory” (2017)

malneirophreniaI was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of the 2017 Malneirophrenia remixes record M-Theory – only 35 copies of this lathe-cut 12″ were made, each individually numbered, so it’s not an easy one to track down.  The band has been around for a while, putting out their first release M back in 2011, but somehow I’ve completely missed them over the years – I’d never even heard of them until this arrived in the mail. They described their debut as “M is a mixture of metal, classical music and imaginary soundtracks. It is chamber punk.”  Chamber punk.  If if that doesn’t sound interesting, I don’t know what does.

My lack of familiarity with he originals means I have limited context for the remixes, with only what I know of the artists doing the remixes to go by.  Futuregrapher and Lord Pusswhip both make contributions, as does Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, who is best known for his work as part of Stilluppsteypa.  Pusswhip in particular gives me what I’ve come to expect from his royal highness, something languidly trippy.  Sigmarsson’s track, “I Am The Cello”, runs 19+ minutes and consumes the entire B side and is a bit of a surprise, lacking the experimentalism I’ve come to associate with his music (OK, maybe there’s a bit on the second half of the song).  The overall feel of the base tracks is classical, with the remixes primarily adding nuance, though Pusswhip makes sure to keep things a bit weird on his.

The three A side songs can be heard on Bandcamp HERE if you want to give them a listen.

Cucumb45 – “SlysóEP4 – Something Weirdcore” and “SlysóEP5 – Cyclops” (2017)

cucumb45weirdcoreCucumb45 is Bjarki Runar Sigurdarson, perhaps best known for his electronic work under his Bjarki moniker.  Last year he put out a pair of five-song EPs on his bbbbbb Records label, and fortunately for me they found their way into a box of assorted stuff I got in the mail a while back from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, because I’m really digging this trippy jams.

 

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The beats are brisk, though a bit more metallic than deep.  Often their combined with other sonic elements such as the organ in “[Karate Latte Heep Mix4]” to create seemingly disconnected soundscapes that are successful at being more impressive when combined than just the sum of their individual parts.  Sometimes, however, it all comes together in a more familiar way, like on “Music For Advertising”, which has more overall cohesion and is more of a straight-ahead groover.  There’s also some flat-out weirdness, with tracks like “Cyclopsipoka” feeling more experimental or avant-garde than something you might hear at a club (or anywhere else for that matter).

You can listen to much of the bbbbbb catalogue on Soundcloud HERE, including both of these EPs in their entireties.