Milkywhale – “Milkywhale” (2017)

There was a time that I felt like I could more or less keep up with most of the new music coming out of Iceland.

That time has long since passed.

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Exhibit A is Milkywhale, the duo of dancer/vocalist Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir and FM Belfast‘s electronics guru Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson.  They’ve been making music together since 2015 and even performed a full set at Airwaves that year… and somehow they’d escaped my notice.  This is probably due to the fact that, as far as I know, they never had  physical release prior to last month, but that’s just nothing more than a hollow excuse.  Because I can’t believe a band this good has been out there and I missed them.  Fortunately thanks to my friend Bryan at Theory of Whatever I have been able to correct this deficiency in my musical experience courtesy of his label’s pressing of Milkywhale’s self-titled debut on vinyl.

Árni is, simply put, a genius when it comes to electronic beats.  He has a way of taking unusual sounds and turning them into percussion to serve as either an underlying or primary beat.  In addition to your more standard drum sounds we’re treated to things like Monty Python’s coconuts and 8-bit video game effects, elements that give the songs a feel that is both non-standard and, more importantly, playful.  While stylistically different, Milkywhale reminds me more than a little of the brilliant 2015 album by Halleluwah (Halleluwah) – a beat-maker paired up with a relatively inexperienced female vocalist putting new spins on established styles of music.  Halleluwah was my favorite album of 2015; Milkywhale has a good shot at making my Top 5 in 2017.

Milkywhale opens with the retro-styled title track driven by classic old school electro-beats with a slight disco flavor à la The KLF, a synthy wonderland that uses the vocals as more of a sonic component than a means of lyrical delivery.  From there the pair transition to some fairly chill tracks in “Birds of Paradise” and “Motionless”, and on first listen I assumed this was the direction the album was going to take… but I was wrong.  Well, kind of wrong and kind of right, because Milkywhale doesn’t fit into a neatly categorizable bucket.  “Animal Kingdom” spins us off in a much different trajectory with some passages of almost rapped lyrics imposed over beats that sometimes drop low into the mix and at others leap right to the forefront.  It’s the first time Melkorka gets out of her comfort zone, and it’s a major success.  And then we get to “Immaterial”… oh “Immaterial,” you sweet, sweet piece of music… how good is this track?  It’s that damn good, that’s how good, a toe-tapping dance track with pace and beat changes that maintain the flow while changing the temperature just a bit here and there.  To my ears it’s the highlight of the album.

The B side opens strong with “Revelation,” which gives “Immaterial” a run for its money as it bounces back and forth between icy quietness and full-blown dance-beats.  “Invisible” is mid-tempo groover that gives Árni the opportunity to contribute some vocals (he also makes an appearance on the mic on “Rhubarb Girl”), and we close out with the dramatic and vocal-focused “Eclipse”.

You can give Milkywhale a listen at the Theory of Whatever Records website HERE, and you can order the vinyl there as well for just 16 bucks, which is a steal.  You can do the same on the band’s Bandcamp page HERE, which also offers you the ability to buy the album as a digital download if that’s more your style.

Iceland Airwaves 2014 – Day 0

What the hell is Day 0?

Well, the official Iceland Airwaves schedule (aka “on venue”) runs from Wednesday through Sunday, but some of the “off venue” locations, like Reykjavik’s infamous Lucky Records, get started a day or two early.  So with that in mind, when we arrived in Iceland this afternoon we went straight to Harpa to pick up our wristbands, bought a poster and copy of the new Snarl 4 comp CD, got some pizza, and then headed over to Lucky to catch a couple of bands and enjoy the open bar.

As we headed down the sidewalk to Lucky, who did we run into outside but none other than proprietor Ingvar Geirsson (aka King Lucky) and Bryan from the Icelandic music blog Ragnaarbastiaan, who also just happens to have recently launched a new label called Theory of Whatever Records.  TOW is releasing a new 7″ by Kimono, and I understand copies are here with Bryan in Reykjavik this week.  I already pre-ordered mine and can’t wait to see the finished product!

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Inside Lucky was pretty damn full – probably a hundred or so people jamming out to some Afro style beats.  Ribbaldarnir gave us a pretty straight forward still of reggae with a very impressive horn section, while Bangoura Band brought a heavy funk vibe with great horns and an even more impressive percussionist rocking out some bongos.  Bangoura Band was a more jam style with some longer songs that wandered in and out around some solos.  Meanwhile at the bar, the folks from Slippbarrinn were mixing some great concoctions including one of the best mojitos I’ve ever had, and all for my favorite price – free.

I also got a sneak peak at the pile of vinyl and CDs on hold for me, including things that Team Lucky thought I might be interested in – so I’ve got my work cut out for me tomorrow when I head back down to the store in the morning to do some digging and listening before things start to get crazy again when their next round of off-venue shows starts at 2PM.

This year is going to be a busy one at Airwaves.  Not only do we have three friends joining us, but also every year we have more and more local friends to catch up with.  Showing up at Lucky tonight was like a homecoming, seeing Ingvar and Jóhannes (vocalist for Epic Rain), meeting Bryan for the first time, eating pizza in our favorite spot, and just getting re-acquainted with Reykjavik.  This city is as close as we have to a second home, and it’s always a huge rush to come back – this year marks our sixth consecutive Airwaves and eighth overall trip to Iceland, and I don’t see us taking it out of our travel plans any time soon.

Tomorrow we’re excited to see Kiasmos at KEX Hostel, a show that I understand may be broadcast live on KEXP, which means you can stream it online.  Do yourself a favor and check out some of their live streams this year – it’ll make a convert out of you.  And maybe one of these days I’ll get to meet you in Reykjavik…