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.

“Record Records 10th Anniversary 2007-2017” Compilation (2017)

Normally things on Life in the Vinyl Lane take a hard turn to all things Icelandic in early November, generally running through the end of the year.  The reason, of course, is because that’s when we head to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves and return home with a bag full of amazing new (and not so new) albums to share with you.  But this year my record pusher dealer enabler collecting friend Ingvar came to Seattle for a visit and brought with him a big box of stuff that Reykjavik’s Lucky Records had on hold for me.  That means that my “To Listen To” shelf is full of Icelandic records (and a smattering of tapes), so we’ll be getting an early start on Airwaves this year.  Don’t fret though, because Ingvar and I did a fair amount of record shopping here in Seattle during his visit too, picking up a lot of interesting non-Icelandic stuff and meaning I have so much “To Listen To” stuff right now that it’s actually causing me anxiety.

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So without further ado, I’m dropping the needle on the beautiful 2XLP Icelandic label comp Record Records 10th Anniversary 2007-2017.  I was lucky enough to get the red vinyl version, which is limited to 100 copies and comes in simple and elegant gatefold

The Record Records roster is deep – Of Monsters and Men, Retro Stefson, Agent Fresco, Mammút, Vök… it’s an Icelandophile’s dream.  Of the 15 bands on the album there’s only one that I haven’t heard of – Ensími; and I’ve managed to see about 2/3 of them live over the years.  You don’t really need me to tell you much about a label comp that’s this deep – these are great bands, and while I may personally have made a few different song selections, they definitely go this one right. (♠)  Most of the tracks are from the second half of the label’s lifetime, including some new 2017 tunes like Mammút’s “The Moon Will Never Turn On Me” and Moses Hightower’s “Mjóddin”, giving the whole thing a more contemporary feel.

Is Record Records 10th Anniversary 2007-2017 a good Icelandic music primer?  Yes… but with caveats.  Record Records has a certain style, so while there’s rock, reggae, and singer-songwriter stuff, you won’t hear any punk or metal or electronica.  What you will get though is a broader sample of the type of stuff that you may catch of whiff of on the radio, and there are some beautiful performances here such as Vök’s “BTO” and “Jolly Good” by Ojba Rasta.  I know one thing for sure though, and that’s that this record is getting me hyped for Iceland Airwaves 2017!

(♠) OK… I definitely would have included a song by Bloodgroup… but given that they’re no longer active, I can understand their exclusion.

Mammút – “Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir”

mammutnewrecordI’m a bit late to the game in getting to Mammút’s 2013 LP Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir.  I knew the band had a brand new album out before our April 2013 trip to Reykjavik… and I bought the wrong record by mistake!  I meant to buy Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir, but instead picked up a copy of the band’s 2008 album Karkari.  Mind you, this was no big deal really since I was already familiar with much of Karkari from having seen Mammút live a number of times, and I like their stuff.  I rectified this oversight when I placed an order with my friends over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records last month and included a copy of Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir.

My initial impression was that this is a much more mature album than Karkari, though the more I listen, the more I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison.  It’s a much quieter album for sure – slower paced songs that showcase Katrína Kata Mogensen’s voice, allowing her more room to sing and less to scream.  Mogensen sounds hauntingly like Björk to me, both in terms of range and the pure power of her voice.  But it’s not just the signing, because musically there’s a lot of richness here, with a deep, full sound and well structured songs.  It’s almost not even a rock album but instead something that would have a much broader appeal, though one slightly hampered by all the songs being sung in Icelandic (though I certainly respect that decision).

It’s been a few years since we last saw Mammút live, so I wasn’t quite prepared for the new material and more mellow direction.  That being said, I’m impressed with Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir… though I would have liked one or two rocking tracks just to mix it up a little.  But that’s just a matter of personal taste.  We’ll definitely need to try to see them at Airwaves this year so we can experience the power of this new material live.

MAMMÚT – “Karkari”

MAMMÚT are a five-piece alt-rockish outfit from Iceland that will blow your doors off.  An odd composition, with three women (vocals, guitar, bass) and two men (guitar and drums), their sound centers around the vocal force of nature that is Kata, who brings energy and who’s style ranges from singing to shrieking to howling, but almost always at the right time.  Karkari originally came out in 2008, and we picked up the CD at Airwaves in 2010 – but I ran across the vinyl on our most recent trip and bought it as well.

The first time we saw the band live was our very first off-venue Airwaves show in 2010 – they played in a big outdoor tent nestled in between two different bars, and they really tore it up.  We caught them again a few nights later in a small rock club in a more intense show, and at that point I was sold.

Karkari is that rare album that I think is stronger on side B than side A, as I think it gives us more of Kata’s range as a singer.  Regardless of which side you play, though, you’re going to get some energy and some great rock that isn’t mucked up and overproduced – it just gets right down to the core of the matter.

iPod Roulette #3

So what’s on my iPod right now… let’s throw on the Marley headphones, hit the shuffle button, and see what comes up.

1.  Led Zeppelin – “Immigrant Song”.  I come from the land of the ice and snow!  Man, I can still remember “discovering” Led Zeppelin for the first time with a cassette copy of Led Zeppelin II.  This version of “Immigrant Song” is from How the West was Won, though I prefer the studio version off Led Zeppelin III better.  No one rocked out a viking warrior, swords and sorcery, Lord of the Rings tune like Robert Plant – it’s like his voice was created specifically to sing this kind of song.  One impressive thing about this version is that there is a great Jimmy Page solo in it as well… and with that rambling, quick John Paul Jones bass line… man, that’s sweet.

2.  Rangleklods – “Enklave”.  We saw this Danish duo love at Iceland Airwaves 2012 having exactly zero experience with them.  They were a late addition to the lineup that night when Django Django, who we wanted to see, had to cancel at the last minute.  Rangleklods impressed the hell out of us, especially my friend Tristen who is now all about them.  The pair make all their sounds with keyboards and electronics, or at least they did at the live show. It’s great electronic music with a rich, deep sound – there are lots of tones and textures here, and the vocals weave in and out.

3.  Mammut – “Dyradottir”  Wow, the iPod is channeling Iceland today, this time landing on the Icelandic band Mammut.  We’ve seen them live a few times over the years, and I’ve always come away impressed with their vocals which are usually loud rock, but this track is quiet and slow… but not in a bad way.  Mammut has a lot of talent, and we’ve seen them getting better and better slots at Airwaves over the years.

4  Patchouli Sewer – “Oil Drum”  This comes off a comp of live recordings from The Storeroom, a bar in Seattle that unfortunately is no longer around.  I reviewed the album in a separate post a while ago – it’s a lot of fun, and the recording quality is surprisingly good.  Patchouli Sewer is an odd punkish band with bizarre lyrics, and someone playing some kind of horn.  They sort of ramble all over the place, with vocals that aren’t singing so much as staggering through the songs.

5. Hawkwind – “Motorhead”  The song that gave the band it’s name.  Lemmy played bass in Hawkwind, and when he was kicked out of the band for drugs he took the name of this song as the monicker of his new band.  And he’s still going strong, fueled by Jack Daniels and rock ‘n’ roll.  This is more of an old school rock ‘n’ roll song, not as fast as Motorhead fans would likely expect.  Hell, it even has a violin on it!  It’s a cool track, though, with an interesting tie to one of the great straight forward, in your face rock bands.

The iPod served up a decent selection today.  You can never be sure exactly what you’ll get, and I have some odd and random stuff on there, but it picked winners across the board.