Singapore Sling – “Killer Classics” (2019)

There’s a certain nihilism to Singapore Sling.  It’s not the nihilism that burns hot and causes one to lash out at the world, but more one of resignation, the sense of a unceasing buzz in your mind that you can’t shake, a slow death by a thousand cuts, the adding of the tiniest weights onto your chest done so slowly that you can’t even sense the change but that over time makes it harder and harder to breathe.  Hell, it’s right there in the song titles.  Killer Classics gives us “Nothing Matters But Rock ‘N’ Roll”.  Prior to that we got “Nothing’s Theme” and “Nothing And Nowhere” on an album called Kill Kill Kill (Songs About Nothing), and “Nuthin’s Real” on The Tower of Fornicity.  And the list goes on.  “The Nothing Inside”; “Nothin’ Ain’t Bad”; and a possible candidate simply called “Noth”.  That’s a whole lot of nothing.  If there are three overarching themes to Singapore Sling’s music they are:

  • Nothing
  • Death (including killing and various forms of destruction)
  • Rock ‘N’ Roll

My perception is that in this trinity Nothing and Death are the elements out there in the world, the weights being put on top of you, the inevitable outcome to life.  Rock ‘N’ Roll, however, is the salvation.  It’s the one thing that cracks the wall of nihilism, the one thing that makes life worth living.  I’m probably extrapolating a bit on the Rock ‘N’ Roll part, but bear with me.  “Nothing Matters But Rock ‘N’ Roll”, we’re told on the latest album, which is a step in the right direction from when the Slingers opined back in 2004 that Life Is Killing My Rock ‘N’ Roll (which included a song of the same name).  The feeling I get when I listen to Singapore Sling is that of driving at night, the windows rolled down and the air coming up from the road still radiating heat from the day’s scorching sun, racing to escape that constant buzz of Nothing and Death chasing you in the rear view mirror, trying to outrace fate.  And, of course, blasting Singapore Sling’s psych soundtrack to it all on the car stereo.

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Right from the opening riff of “Suicide Twist” (Death again!) it was clear what Singapore Sling has in store for us on Killer Classics (more Death).  They’ve honed their brand of shoegazey-psych to a sharp edge and they use it with the precision of surgeons, cutting away the pretense and bloat of what rock has become and skinning it down to its most basic and rawest elements.  The drum beats are the relentless pressure of life, the fuzz of the guitars the unceasing pressure trying to overwhelm you, the bass following your heartbeat as it rises and falls as you struggle to maintain your sanity, and the vocals are the voice inside your head, the one that sometimes tells you that you can do it, but at other times calls for the sweet release of death.

Hank & Tank – “Last Call For Hank & Tank”

hanktankHank & Tank are Henrik Björnsson (Hank) and Þorgeir Guðmundsson (Tank).  Þorgeir is a filmmaker, while Henrik is probably better known for his other band Singapore Sling.  It’s been a decade since the duo’s debut, 2009s Songs For The Birds, but fortunately for us Hank and Tank are back together again and putting out some great music.

Last Call For Hank & Tank opens with “Drive On”, a simple, dark, David Lynch-esque song that somehow takes some very basic playing and turns it into something rich, sonically dense, and mysterious, a brooding soundtrack to an early dusk drive in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to do except drive on.  The addition of the simmering Keren Ann’s vocals to “Same Old Song” only serves to make things even more sombre, the interplay between her and Henrik calling to mind a lost relationship, one that both parties know had to end but miss none the less.

Musically the compositions remain methodical and chewy like liquified caramel with elements of slow psych and surf, a structure that means even the slightest guitar flourish can radically change the mood for a moment.  The vocals take on a languid, almost Western style, their matter-of-factness even when singing about hitting rock bottom (“See The Stars”) creating a mood of resignation, as if the world could treat the singer in no other way.  “I Wanna” is the one time things burst forth, the faster pace and distorted vocals more reminiscent of Singapore Sling.

You can listen to Last Call For Hank & Tank on Bandcamp HERE, and it looks like they still have copies of the limited edition (of 200) vinyl available there as well.  Hopefully these two will be playing Iceland Airwaves this year… but we’ll just have to wait and see.

“Lady Boy Records 018” Compilation Cassette (2017)

Exactly a month ago I got a Facebook message from Lady Boy world headquarters’ top secret Reykjavik hideout, the one hidden in Kolaportið underneath the table of the old guy selling fermented shark meat, letting me know that the latest Lady Boy release was coming out soon, a comp that was their best ever.  That’s right.  Best.  Ever.  Now, to be fair, I get emails from a number of labels and distributors, and I have yet to see one that says “Hey Jeff, our new release is coming out soon.  It’s total garbage, but please listen to it.”  So I take everything with a grain (or the entire rim of my glass if I’m drinking tequila while reading my email) of salt when it comes from a label.  But Lady Boy… Lady Boy is different.  I own all of the non-edible prior Lady Boy physical releases. (♠)  They get all the best, or at the very least the most interesting, Icelandic bands for their comps.  They’re the label that helped us connect with Farmacia on our recent trip to Argentina.  So when they send me secret communications, I listen.

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Lady Boy Records 018 opens strong with the incomparable dj. flugvél go geimskip, the world’s seemingly most innocent practitioner of psych electronica and a woman with amazing taste in leggings.  “Geimurinn er Allt of Stór” reminds me of the first time we saw her live, a total trip-fest of psychedelic craziness about cats and outer space that made me wonder if someone slipped something in my drink. (♣)  And it just gets crazier from there.  About half the bands are new to me, and I don’t have words enough to express how impressed I am with WayFresh & Gipsy Sailor Jerry (“Ball Game”) and Sindri Vortex (“Svona Dafna Blómin Best”), a pair of electro beat-mosters that even Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane gives two thumbs up and two feet tapping. (♥)  And let’s not forget Pseudologia Fantastica who just slay it with some intense techno action, a beat assault on your synapses that leave behind aural tracers like some kind of weird sonic acid trip.

While the first part of the comp is weighted heavily towards electronica, things take a turn for the rock when Singapore Sling kick in with “Sonic Haus,” spinning the whole thing into a high octane psych-rock feeding frenzy bound to melt your brain.  Then things get heavy.  As in really, really heavy.  I’m not familiar with Skelkur Í Bringu, but they bring a lot of pure mass to the party, like one of those huge weights that Roadrunner used to drop on Wile E. Coyote.  “Dýragarður” is like some lost L7 track that just punches you in the face over and over and over again, leaving you smiling and spitting out a couple of teeth afterwards.  From there the Lady Boy crew bring it down a notch, showing they understand the physics of making a mixtape and hitting us with the holy four-pack of Kuldaboli, Andi, Aska, and Harry Knuckles (“New Leans” is one of the comp’s best jams)… this might be a near-perfect mix.  Throw in the surf-western stylings of Notorious Wave Slicers and the very Adam-West-Batman-esque “Rautt Ljós Feat. Axon Bronson” by Skrattar and you have the icing on the cassette cake.  So good.

Go check this sucker out HERE and bask in its pure glory.  As usual, it’s also available on a laser-etched limited edition (of 50) cassette as well.

(♠) Lady Boy 03 was a download laser-etched on a tangerine.  Due to the difficultly of importing fruit into the US, I do not own a copy of this.  Plus it came out a while ago and is probably pretty gross by now.

(♣)  They had not.

(♥)  Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane:  “Do we have this on digital?”
Me:  “Yeah, the tape hasn’t arrived yet.”
Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane:  “Whatever.  The tape does me no good.”

This is how our evening sofa conversations go.  Really.  I’m a lucky man.

Singapore Sling – “Kill, Kill, Kill (Songs About Nothing)” (2017)

singaporeslinglivekillkillkill3Singapore Sling was one of the bands we were most excited to see at Iceland Airwaves in 2016, excited enough to get down to KEX Hostel probably an hour before their set was scheduled to start so we could stake out the best possible spot.  How much did we want to see them?  Enough to make sure Holly’s watch flashed us an alarm 15 minutes in advance so we could be ready.  That’s how much.

We enjoyed Singapore Sling’s last LP, 2015s Psych Fuck, which comes at you like a Lou Reed inspired wall of sound, smothering you over the course of 45 minutes of relentless riffs.  And their live show was every bit the same experience, perhaps even more so given that we couldn’t control the volume knob and the Slingers came at us loud, making us physically feel the waves emerging from the speakers that were only a couple of feet away.  It was intense and enjoyable, leaving my ears exhausted and my brain crying out for another beer to take the edge off the residual electric buzz in my mind.  The below photo summarizes the experience of Singapore Sling witnessed up close and personal.

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I’ve had a copy of the band’s latest release Kill, Kill, Kill (Songs About Nothing) on order since before it came out, and after some delays I just heard that it shipped yesterday.  Sweet.  But man, it was a tough week at work, and Holly and I decided to give the whole week the middle finger so we bought a download of the album so we could rock out to it over some cocktails on Friday night.  And I’m glad we did, because it allowed me to sit on the couch and let Singapore Sling smother my senses, like being covered by an aural blanket, blocking out the stresses and anxieties of the week and drowning them in sound (and vodka).

I went back and gave Kill, Kill, Kill another listen in the car this morning, and was a bit surprised to hear a much more nuanced album than the one I’d experienced the evening before.  If there was one criticism I offered of Psych Fuck it was that by I got to the last couple of songs I was just plan worn out, my ears overloaded to the point that I couldn’t focus on the music and it became a sort of incessant background buzzing.  It had some great songs like “Na Na Now” and “The Underground,” but after listening to three or four of them I was ready to give my ears a change of scenery, much the same way that strong flavors, even when delicious, eventually overwhelm your palette.

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The new album finds Singapore Sling broadening their sound, using a wider-ranging sonic arsenal to create more nuanced tracks.  Don’t get me wrong – Kill, Kill, Kill is still heavy duty psych from start to finish; it’s not like the gang started dabbling heavily into ambient house or something.  But what we have goes beyond the standard rock fare of guitars and drums and keyboards, adding some horns and strings to the mix to bring a sort of horror movie soundtrack vibe in a way that changes the mood of the compositions.  The clearest example of this is on “Surrounded by Cunts,” (yes, I said “Surrounded by Cunts”) which uses sharp and abrasive strings to call to mind the part of any great slasher flick when the killer suddenly appears and stabs stabs stabs their victim, like Norman Bates pulling back the shower curtain and going to work on Marion Crane in Psycho.  And the horror elements don’t end there.  “Riffermania (Kill Kill Kill)” comes out of the gate with a fuzzed out surf rock feel, layered with some deep vocals that are accentuated by the whispered/echoed refrain of “kill kill kill” reminiscent of that haunting “kill kill kill… die die die…” that was sometimes used in 1980s murder movies, soft enough to be almost subliminal.  But in “Riffermania” the “kill kill kill” eventually comes to the forefront, lyrically dominating the second half of the song to the point that you almost start thinking to yourself, “you know what, yeah, maybe that’s not such a bad idea after all” until your rational mind grabs the emergency brake and throws you into a 180 right in the middle of the road, leaving you at a dead stop, sweating, adrenaline coursing through your veins like liquid fire and trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

But it’s not all sharp objects and heaviness.  “Nothing’s Theme” still uses those scraping strings to great effect, but also some discordant horns that give the whole thing the feel of a snake charmer’s song, the trumpet sneaking out at times to pull you in, swaying, giving in to the music.  The acoustic guitar moves to the forefront in “Nothing and Nowhere,” combining with the echoed vocals, some very deliberate and tinkling keyboards, and whistling to create a haunting anti-ballad, an homage to “nothing at all,” while it’s classic blues guitar that sets the stage for dirge that is “Fuck Everything.”  But there’s plenty of that classic Singapore Sling feel as well, with solid psych numbers like “Shake Shake Shake” and “Scum Scum Scum.”

The range Singapore Sling show in Kill, Kill, Kill might not be obvious, but it’s there to be heard if you invest some time and actively listen.  It’s an evolution of their psych sound, in a more traditionally gradual way as opposed to the punctuated equilibrium of bands that make major changes in direction.  Parts of it may also cause you to feel the urge to turn on all the lights and look over your shoulder.  But don’t worry, Norman won’t bother you… at least not until you take a shower…

Dead Skeletons – “Om Mani Peme Hung” (2011)

deadskeletonsblueWhat happens when an artist fascinated with death forms a band with members of Singapore Sling and The Brian Jonestown Massacre?  Well, you get some seriously trippy stuff, my friend.  What you get is Dead Skeletons.

I always have my eyes open for Dead Skeleton releases because they don’t show up for sale too often.  I enjoyed Dead Mantra (2010), Dead Comet (2013) and Live in Berlin (2016), so it wasn’t much of a stretch to plunk down my money for a copy of the 2011 Om Mani Peme Hung 7″ the other day over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  I even mentioned it to band member and artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson when I visited his gallery during Airwaves, and he seemed surprised that I’d been able to find a copy locally.  Some of Jón’s art includes screen-printing using records as the canvas, and I picked up another of these during that visit to hang alongside the two I bought on previous trips.

But back to Om Mani Peme Hung.  It’s exactly what you’d expect – a psych-trip wall of sound with some Eastern influences and an almost religious-trance-inducing vibe.  Neither song lets up – they just keep coming at you, relentlessly, pulsing their ways into your brain. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but if you like some hard psych you’ll definitely enjoy Dead Skeletons.