Acid Arab – “Djazirat El Maghreb” (2015)

acidarabI saw this relatively new release by Acid Arab on the display wall at Paris’ Syncrophone Records a few weeks back.  Holly told me our friend Matt had recently been talking about them because earlier this year they played a festival he attended in Poland, and that was enough reason for me to grab a copy since I’m almost totally out of my element in a techno store.  Turns out this duo is actually from Paris, though their music has a decidedly “Eastern” flavor to it.

We have a few other “Eastern” style electronic albums from Omar Souleyman and Islam Chipsy, but for the most part that’s about it, though that’s enough for me to know that I like it.  It’s the B side where that exotic feel comes to the forefront, with the instrumental playing on “Hafla” giving the entire thing the feel of a Middle Eastern bazaar – I can almost smell the spices, the feel of the heat in the air, and the frenetic pace.  The other B side track, “Amal,” comes at you from a different angle, with a more Persian style of percussion dominating the track making one envision whirling dervishes…

Is the sound true to the region, or is it stereotypical and thus just sounds so to my Western ears?  I can’t be sure.  But I know I like what little I’ve heard of it so far, from Acid Arab and others.  And it might be enough to prompt me to look just a little bit deeper, which is always a good thing.

Fufanu – “Adjust to the Light” (2015)

Many many moons ago, back when Holly, Norberto, and I first started going to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves, there was an electro duo (Kaktus Einarsson and Guðlaugur Einarsson (who are unrelated)) that went by the name Captain Fufanu.  We actually saw them live back in 2009 when they were just a couple of kids with laptops who got the opening slot at NASA on the festival’s last night, and we enjoyed them quite a bit.  Fast forward to 2014 and we caught them again, this time a full five-piece band operating under the shortened name of Fufanu (below).  They’d traded their laptops for a microphone (Kaktus) and a guitar (Guðlaugur) and transitioned from purely electronic music to a kind of psych darkwave.  And it’s pretty excellent.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2014

The two primary members of Fufanu have appeared on other projects as well.  I’m pretty sure we’ve seen Kaktus perform live with his father’s band Ghostigital, and Guðlaugur recently released an excellent cassette of electronic and guitar music on the Lady Boy Records label under the moniker russian.girls (which you can hear in its entirety HERE).  In fact we saw Guðlaugur’s russian.girls set at the Mengi artist space this year and he was excellent – the highlight of the set that evening.

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Earlier this year Fufanu released the four song EP Adjust to the Light. They have a full length set to come out at the end of November 2015 called Few More Days to Go, a 10-song effort that only includes one song from their earlier EP (“Blinking”). The sound is classic darkwave, but with the benefit of not being over-produced like so much of this music is. When I listen to “We Will Last,” it sounds exactly like the band does live – there aren’t a ton of fancy mixing tricks here, these are real people playing real music, a refreshing change of pace when so much of what we hear is over modulated and fake. If I had to pick a favorite it would be “City Lights,” a richly textured groove reminiscent of a slow walk on a cold, dark, rainy night. That particular song is heavily weighted towards the music, so I’d be remiss in not also mentioning “The Hours,” which I think has Kaktus’ finest work on the microphone as well as a fantastic little guitar sound that reminded me a little of the opening of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”

I’m looking forward to Few More Days to Go – Fufanu’s style fits me like a glove.  Holly also gives Fufanu a big thumbs up and remarked that Adjust to the Light is her favorite album of the stuff we brought home from Airwaves.  It’ll definitely be in heavy rotation here for a while.

President Bongo – “Serengeti” (2015)

He walked into 12 Tónar wearing a sort of furry-looking black jacket and quickly began setting up a small collection of electronic equipment while the previous band was still tearing down their stuff.  Sitting at a very short bench he fussed about with the the wiring and controls and started making some sounds here in there as a sort of half-moon crowd of maybe 40-50 people stood around chatting.  None of us ever noticed the moment when the set-up ended and the show started, but eventually the voices quieted down and it was apparent that President Bongo had begun taking us on a journey through Serengeti.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane, 2015

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President Bongo, a.k.a. Stephan Stephensen, is best known for his work as part of the Icelandic electronic music powerhouse Gusgus, and also as part of the duo Gluteus Maximus.  I was bummed earlier this year when Bongo announced his departure from Gusgus in a very concisely worded release, but quickly got over it when I learned he was releasing a solo album called Serengeti.  He was high on our list of performers we wanted to see at Airwaves this year, and we were pleasantly surprised to get a great front-row position to see his set at the 12 Tónar record store.  The setting was perfectly intimate, and watching Bongo work was to watch a man in complete focus… except when he would take a moment to look up and smile at a small child wandering by right in front of him, something you’ll inevitably see at so many Airwaves off-venue shows.  The Icelanders get their kids of to a quick musical start.

An album like Serengeti defies a song-by-song breakdown; it’s a complete work and deserves to be considered as a whole, an electronic musical story.  But a story about what?  Well, Bongo gives us a clue with the title – Serengeti, the massive African ecosystem that is home to the largest mammal migration on the planet, a place that is alternately breathtakingly beautiful and unrelentingly tough.  And this hint gives us a framework upon which to base our listening experience.  What do the rhythms of the Serengeti sound like?  I don’t know… what does a sunrise smell like?  What’s the taste of a rainbow?  Can you touch the sky?

If you’re of a certain age (like right around mine) you grew up in the golden age of nature documentaries, with the pre-cable TV screen filled with shows about Jacques Cousteau and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  These, along with issues of National Geographic, back when it was just a magazine and not a TV network full of doomsday preppers and shows about Nazis, was how we experienced Africa.  It might as well have been another planet as I watched it on our technicolor cabinet-style television, laying on the floor and enraptured with the exoticness of it all (and hoping that Jim didn’t get eaten by a crocodile).

Serengeti doesn’t fall into all of those old tropes.  There are some classically African sounds in the drumming, but in lieu of birds sounds and the rustling of the wind through the tall grass we have Bongo’s medium, that of electronic music, which he uses to create his own musical landscape, something modern for the current day.  This isn’t the Africa of my childhood dreams, but a more modern version, in high definition.  The drums keep it familiar, but from there Bongo is free to experiment, setting the mood with his palette of sound.

If I was a betting man, I’d wager that Bongo’s Serengeti follows the flow of the seasons.  At least it does to my ears and brain, but that’s the beauty of an album like this – it’s a “whole” performance, but the meaning you ascribe to it is somewhat personal.  Bongo only gives you a title and some cover art as the vaguest of treasure maps, and it’s up to you to find the big black X that marks the spot… or don’t, and just enjoy the journey.

RVK Soundsystem – “Formaðurinn” 7″ (2015)

rvksoundsystemAs soon as I saw on Facebook that RVK Soundsystem was putting out a 7″ record I shot an email over to my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records to put a copy on hold for pickup when we were in town for Airwaves.  We’d first seen RVK Soundsystem live last year and loved their traditional style of reggae/dub/dancehall, complete with toasters.  According to the band’s Facebook page only 30 copies of this 7″ were released, and the record comes in a plain white sleeves that are individually numbered at the top right (though the numbering does not show any indication of the number of copies produced).  I got lucky #13.

As near as I can tell members of Icelandic reggae groups Amaba Dama and Ojba Rasta contributed to the tracks, and you can listen to both for free HERE at the RVK Soundsystem Soundcloud page.  I’ll probably try to get this input into Discogs so people at least have an idea that it exists, though I suspect it will primarily appeal to die-hard record collectors due to its severely limited release run.

Fræbbblarnir – “False Death” 7″ (1979)

fraebbblarnirfalsedeathI’ve reached a point with my Icelandic vinyl collecting that I’ve acquired most of the scarce stuff, at least most of the scarce stuff that interests me (I’m not a prog rock guy, and I’m not interested in anything like big band or “popular” music from the 1960s and earlier…).  That leaves me digging deeper into some of the lesser known artists, or looking somewhat longingly at the stuff that I think is just too expensive to justify like Drysill’s Welcome to the Show or Sororicide’s The Entity.  But there were a few still affordable outliers I need, one of which was the recently reviewed No Time To Think 7″ by Purrkur Pillnikk, and another was this 1980 7″ released by Fræbbblarnir called False Death.  I’d recently bid on and failed to win a copy on eBay, so when I saw this signed copy over at Lucky I decided to use some of my hard earned kronur to pick it up and cross it off my want list.

Unusual for the time both for its white vinyl and the prominently displayed ass shot on the front cover, False Death has a bit of early pop-punk flair to it.  Don’t get me wrong, the title track “False Death” is all punk sneering in its vocal delivery, but with a very up-and-down poppy bass line.  The B sides “True Death” is a bit more standard punk fare, but Fræbbblarnir pops it up a bit again with a cover of the classic 1978 hit from the movie Grease, “Summer Nights,” a classic piece of punk rock snottiness and a perfect song for the band to cover.  I love punk covers of classic pop tunes, and this one is no exception.