Esqueleto – “Be My Baby Kitty” (2012)

I discovered Esqueleto by accident while researching a couple of albums I picked up in New Orleans a few months back, Space Cadaver and Crescent City Carnage.  Both were put out on the C Rage! Records label, and that’s how I stumbled across their bandmates Esqueleto on Bandcamp.  After listening to parts of just a couple of songs I immediately ordered their 2012 release Be My Baby Kitty.

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One word from a live review of an Esqueleto performance perfectly describes their style – quirky.  Yes, I know that can mean many different things.  But bottom line, this is some quirky stuff.  Slow psych shoegaze with elements of surf, New Orleans jazz, and blues are all tossed into a blender, thrown against the wall, then overlaid with nursery-rhyme-like vocals.  “Baby Boo” sounds like the kind of song you’d sing to your kid right before bed, except the harmonica is haunting in a way that gives the whole thing an undercurrent of uncertainty, like walking home on a foggy night on a path you know well but that is still a bit scary because you have to go through the woods on a dirt road and maybe, just maybe, this will be the time that something bad happens.  “Spider” and “What a Bummer” both drip with slow psych, and the closing track “Heaven” opens with a New Orleans-style funeral march before slipping in to a dark, dreamy space that contrasts heaven and hell.

Some people say the other place is nice,
Other people say it’s fine,
Other people say the other place is great,
If you want to do the time.

The album can be sampled on Bandcamp HERE and you can also buy the record there for just $9.  When my order arrived it had some extra cool tidbits in there as well from the label, like stickers and flyers, which I thought was cool.  So go support some indie music, ya stiff!

Mammút – “Kinder Versions” (2017)

Well, we’ve been back home for almost a week and Iceland Airwaves 2017 already feels like it happened months ago.  Or at least it does until I look at my “To Listen To” shelf, which is sagging under the weight of music on vinyl, CD, and even cassette.  There’s so much of it that it makes me antsy just looking at it – I don’t want the process of going through it to feel like work, but at the same time I’m anxious to get to all of it.  Since I feel like this calls for some semblance of a plan, I’m going to try to focus on the newest releases first, especially those that came out in 2017, so I can make sure I don’t overlook some gem for my year-end best-of lists.  With that in mind, the first thing I grabbed off the shelf is Mammút’s Kinder Versions.

We first encountered Mammút back in 2010, seeing them live in Reykjavik and picking up a copy of 2008s Karkari.  At that point Mammút were already well-established in the Icelandic music scene, having won the national battle of the bands, Músiktilraunir, in 2004 and with a pair of successful albums under their belt.  One of the things that struck me about the band over the years is that almost all of their material is sung in Icelandic; in fact singer Katrína Mogensen often seemed apprehensive to speak English to the crowd at all, which is a bit unusual at an international event like Airwaves.  Given that I was a bit surprised to learn that Kinder Versions is sung entirely in English.

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Reviewers and critics have been heaping praise on this latest effort.  And rightfully so – it’s an intriguing album.  Over the years the band has seemingly moved away from their more aggressive punk roots to more mellow territory, a trend that started with 2013s Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir and continues on Kinder Versions, the emphasis on Mogensen’s vocals becoming more and more apparent.  In my review of that earlier album I remarked how much she sounds like Björk, and while that may seem like a cop out comparison (comparing a female Icelandic singer to the most famous Icelandic singer ever…), it also happens to be accurate, perhaps even more so on Kinder Versions.  The opening track “We Tried Love” could easily be something off a Björk solo record, and I fully mean that as a compliment.  But this is hardly a copy-cat kind of album, as is evident on songs like the brilliant “Kinder Versions” with its internal stylistic changes, the vocal distortions on “Bye Bye”, and the breathlessness of “The Moon Will Never Turn On Me”.

There’s an undercurrent of simmering sensuality running throughout Kinder Versions.  At times it’s overtly physical, as on “Breathe Into Me”, but mostly it’s simply part of an overall feeling from the music and vocals.  While I miss Mammút’s earlier, more overtly passionate and aggressive feel, Kinder Versions is clearly the work of a very mature band that understands exactly what it wants to accomplish and does so with style.  You can listen to it HERE, or check out the live video of the title track below.

Sóley – “Endless Summer” (2017)

soleyendlesssummerOur friend Leana arrived in Seattle this week and when I picked her up at the airport she passed along a copy of Sóley’s new album Endless Summer that she got during a show Sóley played at Sofar Sounds in Reykjavik.  It’s good to have friends!  As an added bonusit’s the limited edition turquoise version (edition of 150), which is pretty cool.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sóley perform her solo stuff before, though I did see her once as part of Seabear (she’s also part of Sin Fang).  Her solo material is quiet, melodic, and a bit sparse, giving her floating voice space to play.  The emphasis is on piano and voice, with the low end of the piano providing what little bass structure the songs have.  Sóley uses it to great effect, though, and can bring things to a crescendo when she chooses as she does on “Grow”, arguably the best song on the album (and I’m not saying that because it was released as a single… I only found that out after the fact; sometimes the best song is obviously there for everyone to hear).

Endless Summer is a beautiful album and one worth your time to check out.  Sóley offers up some of the songs on her Bandcamp page HERE, so give it a listen.

The Elements – “Honest Enough” (1985)

elementshonestenoughThis is another record that came to me from my buddy Steve’s collection and one I bought simply because it was Seattle related.  Green Monkey Records was putting out local artists  back before Sub Pop was officially a label, starting with the Local Product comp tape in 1983 and just recently announcing their 100th release.  I wrote about one of their vinyl comps a while back, and I don’t often come across the label’s early stuff.

I don’t have a lot of info about The Elements, though I do apparently have bassist Scott Keeney’s old phone number since it’s written on the back of the jacket.  Their style is that sort of transitional indie/college rock, the stuff that would later become the dreaded “Alternative”.  The foundation is rock ‘n’ roll, with elements of punk and jangle pop.  It’s like The Replacements meets Radio Birdman meets Beat Happening meets Violent Femmes.  It all comes together flawlessly on “Rappasplat”, a perfect blending of styles capped off by quirky vocals.  The Elements’ influences appear to be wide ranging and they blend genres effortlessly throughout Honest Enough, like the 1960s psych and folk rock influenced “Somewhere In Time”, a song that still manages to retain a modern aesthetic while staying within the band’s overall vibe.  And their country inspired tribute to their favorite shoes, “Loafers”, is pure ridiculous fun.

There’s so much great music out there, bands that just never got that one break.  And I’m going to keep looking for them, one record at a time.

Long live The Elements!

Nine Speed – “Could Be” b/w “Everything” 7″ (1996)

ninespeedNine Speed were a brief project by well-known positive hardcore musician John Coyle that followed the break-up of the well-regarded Outspoken.  The band, which featured Coyle’s wife Tina as vocalist, put out a 7″ single in 1996 which is, as near as I can tell, the extent of their output.

I expected Nine Speed to be a somewhat traditional punk record, but they’re more emo than anything else, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.  Hell, “Could Be” would have been right at home on Top 40 radio, a blend of pop vocals and rock music, a song that brings a certain deliberate weight while not acting as a cage around the singing.  It’s catchy to be sure.  The B side “Everything” rocks harder, though it’s still more or less indie rock without ranging out into the more poppy versions of punk.