I think it’s safe to say that Icelandic films are completely unknown in the United States, and probably most of the rest of the world as well. Don’t confuse being “unknown” with being “bad” though – I’ve seen a few Icelandic movies over the year, and they’re generally decent. But if there’s one thing that most Americans hate, it’s subtitles, and given the breadth of English language films being pumped out of Hollywood, there’s never a shortage of non-subtitled movies to watch. When we’re feeling exotic, we’ll watch something from the UK (and at times wish their were subtitles to help us with accents when they’re particularly thick).
The movie Skytturnar came out in 1987, and it’s about a couple of whale fisherman who come to Reykjavik, run into some trouble, and end up having some problems with the cops. I haven’t seen the movie, but that didn’t stop me from buying the four song soundtrack that I found on eBay a few weeks ago, which had actually been on my want list for some time. (♠) Why, pray tell, was the soundtrack for a 1987 Icelandic movie about a couple of pissed off whalers that I’ve never seen before be on my want list, you might ask? Well, because of who performs on it – Bubbi Morthens (with his band MX-21) and a little band that were just getting started named Sykurmolarnir. A band you might know better as The Sugarcubes.
Bobbi formed the short-lived MX-21 in 1986, and they only released three songs together – the one on Skytturnar and a two-song 12″ called Skapar Fegurðin Hamingju? (a copy of which I finally tracked down and bought, and should have in my mailbox any day now), both of which came out in 1987. It was a powerhouse of a band though, including not only Bubbi but also former members of Þeyr and Tappi Tíkarrass. The song on the soundtrack, also titled “Skytturnar,” is classic Bubbi from this period, sort of lite-rock bordering on adult contemporary. Musically it’s clearly rock, probably with a bit of a blues influence, and it sounds like there are strings in some parts as well. It’s decent, but nothing to get overly excited about other than for some decent guitar work.
The B side is given over to three songs by The Sugarcubes. This is early stuff, the band having only released a few singles in Iceland up to that point. I believe the soundtrack came out a little before The Sugarcubes’ breakthrough single “Birthday” on the UK’s One Little Indian label, so they pretty much weren’t known outside of their homeland. The three songs are, for all intents and purposes, instrumentals – there are some vocal sounds, but not any kind of actual singing. The first, “Drekinn,” has some elements that might remind one a little of the band’s later material, but the other two are more like traditional movie scores than songs.
All in all Skytturnar is an interesting record, though one that probably only appeals to the Bubbi Morthens and/or The Sugarcubes completist, or the Icelandophile like me.
(♠) I always assumed, based on the small and low quality pictures of this record cover I’d seen prior to owning it, that the dude on the front was playing a violin or something. Turns out he’s aiming a shotgun. Not even close.