I’m not sure how many times we’ve seen Vök live over the years. Four? Five? It’s something like that. The first time was in April 2013 right after they’d won Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual Battle Of The Bands. They seemed so young and shy on stage at Faktorý, but even then you could tell their sound was special. It’s been fun watching them evolve into confident performers, particularly vocalist Margrét Rán who is able to walk that magical fine line between self-assurance and vulnerability.
In The Dark is Vök’s second full-length release, coming on the heels of 2017s Figure and a pair of earlier EPs, Circles and Tension. It finds the band very polished, every song near-perfect in composition and production. Rán’s voice tends to stay in a lower register, husky and breathless, injecting a human element onto the primarily electronic musical canvas. If anything In The Dark feels like a more toward a more adult contemporary space. While that genre is oft-maligned and usually reserved to imply something less-than-favorable, those criticisms miss the point, the point that there is plenty of room for enjoyable music in that space. These songs can find a home on the dance floor, but also in your car stereo when you’re out and about making life happen. “No Direction” is my favorite track, one that breaks free a bit from the overall sound of In The Dark, its wave-like synths and Rán extending herself into a higher range making it a refreshing mid-point to the album.
I came across Toots & the Maytals by accident at, of all places, Half Price Books. Sometimes I like to hit up the used records when I’m there, and that day I found Toots’ album *Just Like That for something like three bucks, thought it looked interesting, and bought it. And promptly put it on the shelf and never seemed to get around to playing it. Then a few weeks back I went to the sale at my truly local shop, Vortex, and found two more Toots albums in their tiny reggae section – In the Dark and Funky Kingston, and they too were relatively cheap, so home with me they went. Thus I ended up with three albums by someone I’d never heard (or heard of) before. This is not the first time something like this has happened.
Toots is Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, who first cut his teeth in the Jamaican music scene in the early 1960s. The three albums I acquired date more or less from the 1970s: Funky Kingston (1973), In the Dark (1974), and *Just Like That (1980). The first two actually have similar track lists, with five of the 10 songs on Funky Kingston also appearing on In the Dark… amazingly including a cover of John Denver’s “Country Road” (Funky Kingston also has a cover of “Louie Louie”). These first two albums sound a lot more like soul and southern baptist gospel than they do reggae, with just a hint of the island in the music, and a strong does in Toots’ singing voice. *Just Like That has a much more readily identifiable Caribbean sound, though it almost has more of a sort of steel drum calypso vibe than traditional reggae… but it’s still cool, definitely the best of the three.
Holly wasn’t sold on these, and while I liked them there wasn’t a lot that got me excited. The “Country Road” covers are cool, and *Just Like That has some nice beats, but I don’t think I’ll be going out of my way to add more Toots to the mix.