Barry Manilow - “Live” (1977)

If you say “Barry Manilow’s music sucks”, people don’t expect you to expound upon that with a reason.  They’ll probably just nod in general agreement.  Manilow is there alongside Kenny G and Nickelback in being performers that it is perfectly acceptable to hate simply on general principle, as if their existence in the world is all the proof needed to support one’s disdain.  But you know what else these artists have in common?  All of them have sold an insane amount of albums - Nickelback over 50 million, and Kenny and Barry 75 million… each.  Yes,  Nickelback, Kenny G, and Barry Manilow have sold more albums than there are people in the UK, France, and Germany… combined.  If album sales were people they would be the seventh most populated country in the world, nestled between Brazil and Nigeria.

Challenge someone on their feelings about Nickel-Barry-G with the above and chances are the response will be something along the lines of, “just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good” and/or “most people have crap taste in music”.  But is this true?  I mean really true.  If the goal of art is to reach people, these guys are doing it about as well as anyone ever has.  You can absolutely dislike their music; that’s personal taste.  If you want to say Nickelback songs are formulaic, fine.  But a lot of people love them.  Chuck Klosterman tackled this in a Grantland article in 2012 way more articulately and entertainingly than I ever could, but the one thing that always stuck with me was his description of the band’s sold out show at Madison Square Garden.  “More surprising is the degree to which the security staff at MSG clearly loves this music; you don’t often see ushers singing along with the band that’s onstage, but that’s what was happening here. They knew every word to every chorus.”

Now I too at times in my life have been a hater of things, including Barry Manilow and Nickelback.  But as I’ve gotten older I find it just makes less and less sense to be this way.  I mean, who cares? (♠)  Maybe you’re a very casual music fan who buys one or two albums a year, and whenever Kenny G puts out a new CD, you buy it.  And you enjoy it.  That’s fantastic.  Find some music you like and listen to it.  And if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.  Generally speaking you can avoid it.  And if you happen to hear “Rockstar” or “Copacabana”, it’s four minutes of your life.  You’ll probably survive.

As for Live, we snagged a clean copy of this double album from the dollar bin down at Ranch Records on our recent trip to Bend, Oregon.  Unfortunately it came out a year before “Copacabana”, so it does not include the story of Tony, Lola, and an unfortunate shooting.  But we do get “Looks Like We Made It”, “I Write the Songs”, and a medley of jingles that Manilow was involved in (KFC, McDonalds, State Farm Insurance…).  Frankly it sounds like it was a fun show.  And for a buck I’m glad to have a copy and become a citizen of Nickel-Barry-G-land.

(♠) That being said, the funniest thing I ever heard someone say at a show was back in 2009 and involved Nickelback.  A woman was with her group of 5-6 friends (all guys) and talking shit about everything and everyone for hours, just being annoyingly pretentious.  I can’t remember the band that hit the stage at the time, but her dismissive response within 20 seconds of them starting their set was “these guys are the Nickelback of techno”.  “Nickelback of Techno” is still a phrase Holly and I use to describe all kinds of things to this day.  Anything generic can be dubbed the Nickelback of Techno.

Blóðmör - “Líkþorn” (2019)

I first connected with Haukur Valdimarsson on Facebook back in 2017.  The thing that an Icelandic teenager and a guy from Seattle on a collision course with turning 50 had in common was our mutual love for the metal band HAM. (♠)  We are HAM!  We’ve stayed in touch both via Facebook and on Discogs over the last few years, generally to commiserate about Icelandic metal and punk, particularly favorites like HAM and Skálmöld.

Then out of the blue a few months back I see Haukur tagged in an article about the 2019 winners of Músíktilraunir, a.k.a. Icelandic Music Experiments, a.k.a. Iceland’s Battle of the Bands.  Could this be the same Haukur?  Did I even know he played guitar?  It was, and he does, and his metal band Blóðmör took home this year’s top prize.  Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, Haukur was also recognized as the event’s top guitarist.  Damn!  I mean sure, if there was an award for the most valuable Microsoft-Excel-user-guy at my company I’d have an outside shot of winning (♣), but to be named the best young axe-wielder in an entire country?  That’s pretty great.

Blóðmör (named after Icelandic blood sausage) just put out a five-song digital EP on Bandcamp (HERE) back in June, and I have to say it’s some damn good stuff.  I strongly encourage you to head over there, download it, and kick the kids a few bucks - yes, they’re offering it up for free, but I’d be willing to bet any cash they get will be spent on gear, studio time, and other music related stuff, so help ’em out.

I of course took full advantage of my relationship with Haukur and asked if he’d do an interview for Life in the Vinyl Lane, and he readily agreed.

Haurkur, you and I originally connected due to our mutual love of HAM. What metal bands drove your passion for the genre?

My biggest inspirations for writing songs for Blóðmör have been all kinds of bands. Mostly Icelandic but also bands from other countries. HAM has obviously had a massive impact. Then I would have to say the Megadeth has affected me a lot as well. Icelandic punk bands from the 80’s have had an impact on my writing. That would be bands like Purrkur Pillnikk, Fræbbblarnir and Þeyr.

How did Blóðmör come together as a band?

Blóðmör started right after another band I was in called it quits. This was in the fall of 2016. We just wanted to make punk music but we struggled a lot and quit after just a few months. Then in 2018 we got a new drummer and started playing again. Soon we played our first concert and have been in the scene since.

Blóðmör recently won Músíktilraunir, and you were recognized as the best guitarist.  What was that experience like, both preparing for it and ultimately winning the competition?

We prepared for Músíktilraunir by rehearsing the songs we were going to play over and over.  Even when we knew them 100% we just pushed them even more until they sounded perfect. When we made it to the finals we were so happy but after winning the whole competition we were left speechless. It was an amazing experience.

Your new five-song EP Líkþorn came out in June. How was the experience of recording that album?

Recordings of our EP started in October last year. We went to the studio very inexperienced and basically just didn’t know anything what we were doing. It took a few months to finish the recording, they were over in February this year. After that our friend Biggi from Alchemia started mixing the album and after that Oculus mastered it. Then on June 14. it finally got released.

How were you able to get Óttarr Proppé to join the band on “Frumskógurinn”?  How was it working with one of your idols?

I’ve known Óttarr for some time now for a few reasons. So it was easy for me to contact him. He was very open for the idea so he came. It was an amazing experience having him in the studio with us. When I heard him sing to our song for the first time I just couldn’t stop smiling.

What’s next for Blóðmör?

Our next step would be writing enough new material to record a full length album. We have almost 3 new songs ready at the moment, 2 of which we play live already. But I think we will not go to the studio again until we have at least 8-10 songs ready. We will take as much time we will need. I think it’s better to wait rather than doing this in a hurry.

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I was intrigued when Haurkur mentioned Purrkur Pillnikk and Fræbbblarnir as influences, because even at first glance there’s more than a bit at punk at play with Blóðmör - after all, the longest song on Líkþorn clocks in at a very un-metal-like 3:04, definitely a departure from the ambitious lengths of so many metal tracks these days.  Stylistically there are punk elements as well, though make no mistake - this is guitar-driven metal through-and-through.  Right from the opening of the title track “Líkþorn” we’re treated to driving riffs, followed by growled vocals, then right into a classic metal instrumental interlude before reversing course and taking us to the finish line in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee.  But lest you be afraid the guys are going to stay in this zone for the next 12 minutes, au contraire mon frère, because “Klósettið” is a pure rocker, its vocals cadenced in pop punk fashion and slightly at odds with the brief metallic solo burst in the song’s second half.  “Skuggalegir Menn” takes us in a doom direction, the vocals going lower and more primal, the rhythm section pulsating with plodding weight, a HAM-esque crusher that still maintains a dose of youthful enthusiasm.

The first time I heard “Frumskógurinn” I stopped dead in my tracks and said out loud to no one in particular (I was home alone at the time), “wait, that’s Óttarr Proppé“, the one and only vocalist for HAM and Dr. Spock!  And I have to say he fits perfectly into this track, probably the most punk jam on Líkþorn, one reminiscent of some of the finest first wave Scandinavian punk bands.  Óttarr takes the middle of the song in a raspy, accusatory direction before the guys bring it back home perfectly, picking up right where they left off before his vocal interlude.  The album closes with “Barnaníðingur”, another rocker characterized by a driving rhythm, though one that picks up speed along the way like a car with no breaks heading down a hill, going faster and faster until the collision at the end that brings the whole thing to a sudden and jarring stop.

I suspect that we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from Blóðmör in the coming years, and hopefully they’ll land a few shows during Airwaves this year so that I can check them out live.

(♠) And the English language, because mercifully for me Haukur’s English is probably better than mine.

(♣) OK, maybe I’d be in the top three… or maybe the top five… but spreadsheets are cool, dammit!

Dr. Sadistic and the Silverking Crybabies - “Pyramid Punk” (1980) and “Maroon Balls” (1981)

Daddy, where are my balls?
— “Prepubescent Punk”

Sometimes you find the records.  Sometimes the records find you, catching your eye for reasons unknown and eventually going home with you.  Which is precisely how I got pulled into the orbit of Dr. Sadistic and the Silverking Crybabies.  Their two releases were displayed on the wall of Bend, Oregon’s Ranch Records during our recent visit, and the absurdity of the band’s name all but forced me to check my phone and see what I could find out.  Which, at the time, wasn’t much (though later I found a great history by one of the Silverking Crybabies HERE)… but it was enough to not only buy both records, but to also break one of my cardinal rules, “Don’t Buy Old Sealed Records Because They’re Always Warped”.  Fortunately my rule breaking paid off, as the self-published Pyramid Punk is in a sturdy jacket that never got messed up by the dreaded shrinkwrap shrink.

Dr. Sadistic and the Silverking Crybabies formed as a revolt against not only disco but also crappy punk.  The result is Pyramid Punk, a quasi Rocky Horror Picture Show kind of concept album about a kid with some extra chromosomes named Jerome who is accidentally castrated by a drunk Dr. Sadistic, an unfortunate event that sets his life on a trajectory of teenage binge drinking, discovering punk, herpes, being held hostage in a bondage condo in Aspen, Colorado, then escaping and living in a dumpster… before being kicked out of the dumpster too.  All the while railing against everyone from his fellow punks to Aspen’s wealthy.  Gucci-Pucci asshole / Small dogs / Big cars / Face lift / No scars!  Stylistically it’s punk attitude to be sure, but musically almost more like show tunes, a blend of light rock, doo-wop, new wave, funk, and glam.  There’s nothing hard or fast here, but that doesn’t matter, because the whole thing is one big middle finger at anyone and everyone.

The crew continued Jerome’s story a year later with Maroon Balls, Jerome having apparently survived the events of Pyramid Punk despite the album ending with him being beaten to a pulp (“Beat Me to a Pulp”) and the playing of “Taps” to close out the record.  The emphasis, however, shifts to Dr. Sadistic himself, as he travels to Aspen and becomes the frontman for the Crybabies.  From there it gets racy, irreverent, ridiculous, and everything in between (as well as on top of and underneath).  Musically the Crybabies play in a style similar to that on Pyramid Punk, a blending of various genres and this time even adding in a dose of polka (“The ‘Won’t You Please Go Back to New Jersey…’ Polka”), all of it played quite well even if the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek.

Will I ever play these Dr. Sadistic albums again?  Well… I don’t know.  Maybe.  Maybe not. Their absurdism is tempered by decent playing, so while both records would almost qualify as novelties, they’re awfully good ones.  But regardless, I’m glad they found me.

Whodini - “Open Sesame” (1987)

My best guess is that my first exposure to hip hop was via the video for Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” in 1986.  Up until that time I lived in a hip-hop-free universe.  I seem to recall liking the video, but it was another year or two until I actually started to explore the genre, only looking from that point forward, failing to ever go back to the genre’s roots.  To be fair, that kind of retro research wasn’t so easy to do in the pre-internet era, especially given hip hop’s complete lack of positive media coverage.  If I’d been in New York City or Los Angeles I’d probably have had at least some exposure to the earlier artists.  But in Seattle?  No.

A few weeks back we watched the documentary Conny Plank - The Potential of Noise (recommended).  It traced the story of German producer Conny Plank, and it was during a section of that film that we first heard of the hip hop trio Whodini, who Plank produced in the early 1980s.  Since then we’ve picked up a CD copy of their Greatest Hits, and a few days ago added this vinyl copy of 1987s Open Sesame.

While Whodini’s earlier material was more dance and, dare I say, disco influenced, Open Sesame opens with the hard-rock-riffing “Rock You Again (Again & Again)”, Whodini clearly having registering Run-DMC’s success in blending rap and rock, choosing as their base samples of Mountain’s “Long Red”.  While that song definitely rocked, it lacked recognition of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” - even rock fans couldn’t easily place it.  Besides which the rock-rap partnership wasn’t the wave of the future (though Public Enemy and Anthrax certainly worked well together), instead it was the emergence of gangsta rap.  Unfortunately for Whodini they found the genre moving away from their dance-friendly sound, the sound that defined the rest of Open Sesame (“Cash Money” does offer some social commentary).  But I’ll tell you this - I love this stuff.  It’s upbeat.  And it’s fun.

“The Sound of Hollywood Copulation” (1984)

This is a solid mid-80s hardcore comp.  Quite a few of these bands were from California, but other west coast entries include Sado Nation (Portland) and the Mentors (Seattle), plus Government Issue is from DC, so it feels like it’s more about the Hollywood punk scene than it is local bands per se.

This probably my favorite of all the various hardcore comps I’ve listened to over the years. Songs from this period were fast, but you could still follow along and understand most of the lyrics.  Sure the Mentors inject a dose of their typical sloppiness, but so be it.  Only available on vinyl, it appears there was a 2015 re-release that’s more affordable than an original pressing ($20 versus $40-50 for a nice 1984 version).  A good primer for someone looking to start exploring the 1980s LA hardcore scene.