I haven’t been posting a lot over the last few months, and that’s been causing me a little angst. I really enjoy Life in the Vinyl Lane and interacting with the people who read it, and I feel I haven’t been doing my part. There’s actually a reason for this – I’ve been doing my writing somewhere else. No, I haven’t been secretly writing music stuff for some other blog somewhere. I’ve been wrapping up a book, which I’m pleased to say as of this weekend is more or less finished and ready to go to the publisher. Alas, it’s not a music book… but maybe next time. I’d still like to do something on Icelandic music someday… (publishers, feel free to contact me!)
Anyway… I was browsing Facebook this morning when I saw that one of my friends just picked up a vinyl copy of the first Ghostigital album, Einar Örn. Or is it actually an Einar Örn album titled Ghostigital? I’ve never been 100% sure, and Discogs doesn’t include it as part of the Ghostigital discography. Regardless, it’s the same dudes, Einar and Curver, and includes a healthy does of Sensational, just like the subsequent Ghostigital releases… so whatever. To me it’s all part of the same thing.
Seeing that post put me into the way back machine to the first time we ever saw Ghostigital, at Ia small club called Batteríið during Iceland Airwaves 2009. Holly sort of had a clue who they were, but I don’t think any of us were quite ready for what happened. This was quite possibly the first time I’d ever had my mind completely blown by a musical performance. I mean completely and totally. Sure, I’d been pleasantly surprised by bands before. But never had I experienced such an unexpected and incomprehensible musical assault on my brain. I was like a pinball machine that had been jostled too much, with “TILT” flashing in my eyes. It was one of those deals where when it was over, you didn’t even know what to say. I’d never seen or heard anything like it before.
Here’s a photo I took of that show. Einar sounded alternately desperate (“It’s dark in here… it’s so dark… I can’t see anything…”) and aggressive, like a coiled spring. I felt like he might dive into the crowd at any moment.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I didn’t come out of that show a convert (though “Good morning… good morning to you…” did become our catchphrase for the rest of the trip!). That didn’t start to happen until a few months later when I decided to give In Cod We Trust (2006) a shot. Holly had picked up the CD on the trip, and after the first play I still wasn’t sold. Then I played it again. And everything changed.
In Cod We Trust is a album that requires multiple listens to digest. It’s not easy. There’s a lot going on here. It’s kind of electronic, kind of industrial, more than a little hip hop, but, you know, with trumpets. It features a song about the Cod Wars between Iceland and the UK, which I hadn’t realized were an actual thing until I looked them up.
Where do you start with an album like this? Well, at the beginning. The first track, “Good Morning,” is the best song on the disc, and probably one of my top three all-time Ghostigital tunes (right up there with “Don’t Push Me” off of Division of Culture & Tourism). Killer, slow, heavy beat, catchy vocals, and the hip hop stylings of Sensational giving a completely different vibe than Einar’s singing. Sensational makes another appearance on “Northern Lights” – he’s been on every Ghostigital album, and I’m always drawn to the songs he performs on. But he’s not the only guest vocalist here. In fact pretty much every song has at least one guest singer, perhaps most notably Mark E. Smith of The Fall appearing on “Not Clean,” the song that has the chorus “In cod we trust…” that gives the album its name.
There is a certain amount of humor in Ghosigital’s lyrics. I mean, this is the same group that recently gave us a trippy electro version of “Green Eggs and Ham” on their 2013 album The Antimatter Boutique. And a song about a pair of pants on the floor (“Trousers”). And hover skates (“Hovering Hoover Skates”). And, you know, cod. But while some Ghostigital lyrics will make me crack a smile, this isn’t comedy. It’s more like cracking into someone’s skull and reaching down into the deepest depths of the unconscious. The place where your fears dwell. The emotional sea where confusion and fear and anger dwell. Curver takes that roiling mess and turns it into sound. And Einar spits it all out into the microphone, a stream of consciousness, a complete and total exposing of the most primal parts of the mind. To watch him perform is to see a man possessed, eyes wide, moving around spasmodically, looking right through you like you aren’t even there.
Ghostigital isn’t for everyone. And I don’t mean that in a “if you don’t get this you’re an idiot” way. It’s disjointed. It’s powerful. It breaks you down. But if you give it a shot a few times, you may start to make sense of it, to feel it. Then again, you may not. But personally I think it’s worth the effort.