The Best of 2019

And here we are, another year rapidly approaching the finish line, a half dozen days left before we close the book on the second decade of the 2000s, the 2020s anxiously awaiting their turn.  Will it be another Roaring 20s like the one that happened a decade ago?  I don’t know.  All I do know is that the older I get, the faster time seems to pass, slipping almost unnoticed until a season change makes you realize another three months slipped away, until another New Year’s moves another bead to the wrong side of the ledger.

All in all 2019 was a pretty great year in music, at least from my perspective.  We got some travel in and saw shows in four different countries.  We discovered some new favorite artists.  We made some new friends through music, and strengthened our bonds with old ones.  And I bought a lot of music.  A LOT of music.  Records, tapes, CDs, downloads… in the era of free and streaming, I’m still a bit of a luddite in preferring the physical, the tangible.

So, without further ado, here it is - the 8th annual Life in the Vinyl Lane “Best Of” post!

Top 5 New Releases in 2019

  1. I Don’t Know How To Be Happy - Deli Girls (US)
  2. Return - Foreign Monkeys (Iceland)
  3. Shlon - Omar Souleyman (Syria)
  4. OHMelectronic - OHMelectronic (Canada)
  5. Blizzard People Compilation (Iceland)

By my count I posted about 51 different 2019 releases this year, excluding re-releases.  There were also handful of things from this year I heard but didn’t write about for various reasons, including laziness.  While I posted about a few more new releases in 2018, I feel like overall my consumption of new music was about the same as last year.

My favorite release for 2019 is Deli Girls’ I Don’t Know How To Be Happy.  This is perhaps an unusual selection for Life in the Vinyl Lane not because of the genre, which is in fact difficult to define, but instead because it never came out, to the best of my knowledge, on any kind of physical medium.  Nope.  This one was digital only.  And I’ve played the hell out of it.  A blend of techno, experimental electronica, power electronics, and punk, I Don’t Know How To Be Happy is one of the rawest things I’ve heard in a long time, like a hot spot on your arm that you can’t stop scratching even though you know you should.  The music grates on your sanity to create an emotional edginess before the vocals come in and pummel you into paste.  I couldn’t get enough of “Officer” and “I’d Rather Die” on my iPod, though that might say as much about my daily commute as it does about anything else.

Next up was the triumphant return of Iceland’s Foreign Monkeys after a decade-long hiatus, the appropriately named Return.  We loved their debut , and the follow-up put more emphasis on the garage rock side of their sound, stripping things down to the core elements.  For years we regretted that we’d never caught them at our first few Airwaves festivals, but this year we got the chance and jumped at it - and the album captured their live set well.  Omar Souleyman tried to sneak one past me late in the year, but I caught wind of Shlon in time to pre-order the vinyl (which comes out in January) and get the digital download.  I’m considering this part of 2019 since the download is available now.  Shlon definitely sounds like a Souleyman album, but it also shows more range than some of his previous works with some slower and more sonically emotional moments.  You can never go wrong with Omar Souleyman.

The Top 5 rounds out with some great EBM/industrial from Canada’s OHMelectronic and a comp out of Iceland called Blizzard People.  I debated on whether or not to include Blizzard People, since putting a comp on a list like this seems a bit lazy.  But here’s the thing, or more precisely things.  These six tracks are all relatively new.  And I’m certain I played this album more than any other in 2019.  Every song is a burner, and Logitech’s “Leather Forecast” is the best jam I heard all year.  Plus it’s my blog so I can do what I want, so there.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Deli Girls
  2. OHMelectronic
  3. Blóðmör
  4. Hula
  5. Hvörf

I already mentioned the first two artists in my Top 5 New Releases list, so let’s start with Blóðmör.  I’ve been in contact with the band’s guitarist/vocalist Haukur for a number of years - we connected online due to our mutual love of the bands HAM and DIMMA.  What I didn’t know until this year, though, is that Haukur had his own metal band, and they had a huge 2019, releasing both a demo and the six-song Líkþorn.  Plus, you know, they won Iceland’s annual battle of the bands.  Pretty killer year.  We got to meet Haukur after the Blóðmör show at Gaukurinn during Airwaves, and he couldn’t have been nicer.  I’ll be keeping my eyes on these guys in the future.

Hula is a sort of industrial dub band I discovered in the used section of Seattle’s Jive Time Records and over the course of the year I picked up a half dozen of their records, each one of them all-killer-no-filler.  There are still some titles I don’t have and I’ll definitely pick them up as I come across them.  Last but not least is Hvörf, a new collaboration between two tremendous Icelandic musicians, Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason and Þórir Georg.  Their debut, Music Library 01, is an impressive collection of eight tracks in two distinct styles, a more classical-based mood-setter and one that’s a bit more spacey with dialogue sampling.  It was an unexpected surprise at the end of the year, and a welcome one.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

  1. Þagað Í Hel - Þeyr
  2. Soðin - Blóðmör
  3. Nælur Compilation
  4. Artoffact Records Sale
  5. Three Boxes of Free Stuff

It’s a bit odd that of the top three purchases on this list, only one was vinyl.  But oh, what a huge one!  While I still try to resist describing myself as a “collector”, I do have a handful of items on my “want” list that are probably there as much due to their rarity as they are for the music.  And at the number one position for probably the last five years has been Þeyr’s 1980 debut Þagað Í Hel.  As part of the first wave of Icelandic punk most of their stuff is hard to find, having been pressed in small quantities and rarely exported.  But Þagað Í Hel takes it to a different level, as I’ve been told that much of the print run was returned due to pressing flaws (and my copy has one of these on the B side) and the masters were destroyed so the songs themselves exist only on this vinyl release.  I had an alert set on Discogs for it, and the second a copy showed up for sale from Sweden I bought it, no questions asked.  That process seemed a bit anti-climactic, but I’m still glad to have the record.

Blóðmör’s super-limited live demo tape Soðin and the Nælur compilation CD both came to me via a good friend of mine in Iceland who always hooks me up with amazing stuff, and these two have been getting a lot of play since our return from Reykjavik.  The Artoffact label online sale resulted in a huge box of vinyl and CDs arriving on our doorstep, turning me onto a bunch of new-to-me bands like OHMelectronic, Individual Totem, and Images in Vogue, as well as giving me my first exposure to Die Krupps.  The last spot on the list is held down by three massive and heavy boxes of 1960s and 70s rock I got for free from someone at work.  A lot of it was stuff I’m not interested in, and quite a few of the jackets were water damaged and moldy, but I still pulled some gems out out there, and even though I had to throw out the jackets of the firs six Sabbath albums, the records inside were pristine, so I can’t complain.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. A-Ha - Royal Albert Hall, London
  2. Fufanu - Urban Spree, Berlin
  3. Hatari - Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik
  4. Hermigerville - Lucky Records, Reykjavik
  5. Foreign Monkeys - Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar, Reykjavik

We weren’t able to attend Iceland Airwaves in 2018, an absence that broke our nine year run of consecutive visits.  And in reflecting on it I realized what I missed the most was not, believe it or not, the music, though that was still a gaping hole in my November.  No, what I missed the most was seeing all the people who have become our friends over the course of a decade’s worth of Airwaves.  We have an entire crew’s wroth of friends who live in Reykjavik - Ingvar, Mumbi, Gestur, Jóhannes, Einar, Bob, Reynir, Leana, the hilarious shit-talking guy who runs the restaurant Shalimar… plus all our friends who travel in from points all over the globe - Tristen and Andy (US), Matt and Tanya (Canada), the KEXP crew (especially Kevin and Jim), Paul (Scotland)… it takes a village.  And this year we extended our Airwaves family even further, spending time with Rob and Olie and Oscar and Sarah… that’s what makes Airwaves so special.

Anyway, now that I’ve waxed poetic about that, the best show was, hands down, A-Ha at Royal Albert Hall (below).  When I told people we were going to that show I was surprised by how many people my age did not remember A-Ha at all, and those who did generally only knew them for “Take On Me”.  I forget how much of a nerd I am sometimes, as well as how big of an A-Ha fan Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane is.  So we made a special effort to see this show, and it was worth it.  The first set saw the band playing the entire Hunting High and Low album in order, and after a break they then went into a second set of their other material.  The venue was amazing, the sound perfect, and the video work tremendous.

Fufanu playing in Berlin while we were there was an unexpected surprise, one we made sure to take advantage of.  Seeing them in a small venue like this was great and they were on top of their game.  The other three shows on the list were all from Airwaves, and two of them were off-venue.  Hermigerville’s set at Lucky Records was, unquestionably, the most fun I had at Airwaves this year; his joy in playing the music is infectious and the crowd was happy to come along for the ride.  The Foreign Monkeys set was in a hotel and there were only a few dozen of us there, but the guys tore it up and even some friends who tend to be a bit more ambivalent about rock clearly enjoyed their energy.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America

  1. Easy Street Records, Seattle
  2. Reckless Records, Chicago
  3. Daybreak Records, Seattle
  4. Ranch Records, Bend (OR)
  5. Silver Platters, Seattle

The Rest of the World

  1. Lucky Records, Reykjavik
  2. Space Hall, Berlin
  3. Sister Ray, London
  4. Rough Trade West, London
  5. Hard Wax, Berlin

The top spots on both lists are pretty much on lockdown, at least on any year we make it to Reykjavik.  Easy Street is our local Seattle area go-to, and Lucky is a home-away-from-home in Iceland.

I didn’t do much traveling in the US this year, but a January business trip to Chicago found me in a hotel just a few blocks from Reckless, and I went there every night.  We also made it down to Bend, Oregon for a wedding and got to spend some time (and money) at Ranch Records where I found a few intriguing punk titles.  Daybreak in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood continues to impress with its variety and good prices, and the massive selection at the Seattle branch of Silver Platters is always worth a visit.

The international list was a bit tougher to narrow down because we went to some outstanding shops in the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Iceland.  Berlin’s Space Hall (listening stations - right) is an essential stop, especially if you’re into electronic music.  Hard Wax, while not nearly as large as Space Hall, was well-curated and every single thing I flipped past seemed interesting.  In London I had my best used buying experiences at Rough Trade West and Sister Ray - I’m pretty sure I could have easily blown my entire vinyl budget for the trip in either of those stores.  There were some other great stops as well - London’s Phonica Records and Potsdam’s Silverspeed Records would have probably made the list any other year, but in 2019 the competition was steep.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 1 by Henry Rollins
  2. Facing the Other Way:  The Story of 4AD by Martin Aston
  3. England’s Hidden Reverse by David Keenan
  4. The 33 1/3 B-Sides by Will Stockton and D. Gilson (eds.)
  5. Revenge of the She Punks by Vivien Goldman

I think I only read six music-related books in 2019, so this list wasn’t too hard to put tighter.  Henry Rollins’ Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 1 just came out in November and it’s basically a journal-format love letter to music and record collecting covering a three year period.  It looks like Henry and the team have the next two volumes already in the works, so I’m sure I’ll devour those when they come out as well.  Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD was another high point as it opened my eyes to the 4AD label and turned me on to a number of bands I hadn’t heard of before, which is a big plus.  Same with England’s Hidden Reverse, which expanded my knowledge of some of the more fringe quasi-industrail performers who later became at least a bit more well-known like Coil, Current 93, and Nurse with Wound.

 

It’s hard to believe 2019 is in the books, but here we are again my friends.  We’re already starting to talk about travel plans for 2020 and it looks like the new year may take us to some new places on the planet, which means more new music to discover.  I can’t wait.

Fufanu - “Dialogue II” (2018)

<sarcasm> Very sly move, Fufanu.  Putting out three separate digital EPs over the course of a couple of months… you knew I wouldn’t be able to wait for the vinyl version that combines all three.  That’s not due out until October, and there’s no way I could just sit around and wait until then to hear this stuff.  So I’m buying these on digital the day they’re released.  And of course I’m going to buy the vinyl too, because I’m crazy like that.  Savvy, guys. </sarcasm>

Dialogue II is the second installment of the Dialogue trifecta and it just hit the interwebs a few weeks ago.  And I’ve been listening to these three songs almost non-stop since then. “Pick It Up” is a deep thumper with vocals that range from frog-like and modulated to crystal clear and dreamy, like having the id and superego engaging in a low-key debate in the recesses of your brain.  “Typical Critical”, the pre-release single, is a simmering piece of electro-soul, all slow grooves and sweat and hot breath.  It closes out with “Chop Chop”, a thumping instrumental reminiscent of their fellow Icelanders Gusgus and one that takes the guys to their roots back when they were the electronic duo Captain Fufanu.

Another fantastic offering from Fufanu.  I’m looking forward to the third installment and the complete collection on vinyl (pre-order HERE).

Fufanu - “Dialogue I” (2018)

Fufanu have been fairly prolific over the last few years.  Between July 2015 and February 2017 they treated us to an EP and two full-length albums.  After the release of the brilliant Sports last year it seemed like every time they popped on my Facebook feed the guys were touring somewhere, and it turns out that while they were touring they were also writing.  So it wasn’t a surprise to learn that Fufanu were putting out new material in 2018.  But what was surprising is how they planned to do it - putting out three separate EPs over the second half of the year.  They refer to it as The Dialogue Series, and the four-song Dialogue I just hit the internet this week. (♠)

DJ/producer Alap Momin worked with Fufanu on these tracks, which definitely have a club vibe to them.  “My New Trigger” opens as a house-style groover, languid and rich, then taking a hard right turn and picking up the tempo and adding dreamier vocals.  In fact the first couple of times I played this EP I thought the two parts of “My New Trigger” were actually two separate songs as there’s a momentary full stop in the middle of the track that marks the spot where the styles diverge.  The structure of “Listen To Me” brings us back into Sports territory, though the vocals come to us in a thick haze that further distances them from some of the poppier musical elements.  The first single, “Hourglass”, is a song about frontman Kaktus Einarrsson coming to grips with losing two grandparents in a relatively short period of time, losses he didn’t fully come to terms with when they happened.   Dialogue I closes out with “Nine Twelve”, an intriguing instrumental that brings an almost country vibe to the table.

Fufanu is a project that continually evolves, from the early DJ work of Captain Fufanu to standard post-punk to a more electronic direction and now to Dialogue I taking the guys in a more electronic direction.  This makes them a lot of fun to follow because you’re never quite sure what they’re going to give you next.  I’m looking forward to the next installment in the Dialogue series.

(♠)  No word yet on if/when/how these EPs will be released on physical media.  For now Dialogue I is only available electronically. 

The Best of 2017

Unlike many Life in the Vinyl Lane blogs, I’m writing this one on the same day I’m posting it.  It’s Christmas morning, and out my living room window I can see the rare Seattle white Christmas in effect as we got about three inches of snow last night, which is a nice touch (it’ll be even nicer if it’s all melted off the roads by time I have to leave for work on Wednesday morning…).  But since we don’t have kids and both of us have very small immediate families, this morning is much like any other winter-time weekend, only with different holiday-themed coffee cups.

Going into 2017 I decided to start keeping a log to help me with my year-end lists, and while I wasn’t as diligent as I’d have liked it still was a big help, especially in the area of new releases.  There was a lot of great new music this year!  In fact, there was so much that the choices weren’t all that easy to make.  Since Holly and I both have project management backgrounds, though, we were able to come up with a solution - we created a scrum board of our favorite 16 releases of 2017 and then used a random number generator to select which one we would play every night as we worked our way through them.  And I’m glad we did, because there were some albums from earlier in the year that had fallen off our radars a bit, and man they sounded great when we came back around to them.

In preparation I also spent a few hours combing through the top albums lists of various major (and minor) publications and blogs.  Perhaps even more so in years past I was struck by two things.  The first is how few of the albums on other lists I’ve heard.  In fact, when it came to the major pubs (think Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME…) I literally had only heard ONE album on any of these lists - Songhoy Blues’ Résistance, which appeared at #31 on the Rolling Stone list, though nowhere else.  The only other one I found was in The Quietus‘ top metal albums list, having heard and reviewed Sólstafir’s Berdreyminn.    So at least there’s that.  Only Dr. Rok’s list of Top 20 Icelandic releases yielded any common ground - I’ve heard 14 of these, which probably is indicative of the real issue here, which is that I listen to a lot of Icelandic music, and that stuff doesn’t generally make the year-end lists with a few exceptions.  And that brings me to my second observation.  I’m surprised how many of the bands on these lists I have never even heard of.  In fact, on most lists I’m lucky to have heard of maybe a quarter of the artists, sometimes less.  For a guy who writes a music blog, I sure don’t seem to know much about what’s happening in music.

All that being said, the scrum board has been taken down and the votes tallied.  So without further ado…

Top 5 New Releases In 2017

  1. Neysluvara - Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Midnight Champion - Legend (Iceland)
  3. Suero - Farmacia (Argentina)
  4. Space Cadaver - Space Cadaver (US - New Orleans)
  5. Sports - Fufanu (Iceland)

There were two albums I knew were going to be in my Top 5 even before the scrum board experiment - Neysluvara and Midnight Champion.  They were clearly head-and-shoulders above all comers in 2017.  While Legend held an edge over Hatari by virtue of the fact that they put out a full album while their island-mates only gave us a four-song EP (and one that was only on CD to boot!), we were both simply blown away by Hatari.  Neysluvara‘s brand of IDM has been pumping out of my iPod almost non-stop over the last two months and it doesn’t get old.  If I’m being honest Hatari probably gets a little extra lift by the fact that we saw them live this year and they blew us away.  I get that that shouldn’t impact a top album kind of thing, but as Holly pointed out, this is a blog and music is a personal experience, and it’s hard to separate out those personal experiences from the music itself.  So as much as I love Midnight Champion, both musically and lyrically, I’m giving the top spot by Hatari.

Suero had fallen off the radar for a while and revisiting it reminded me of just how good it is.  If there’s one thing that separates it from Space Cadaver and Sports, it’s the sonic experimentation the Argentinian’s do.  Sure, it’s all electronic music; but it’s all over the board, from pure dance numbers to crazy experiments.  And I’d be lying if the personal connection we made with the Sima brothers earlier this year on our visit to Buenos Aires didn’t have an impact on my feelings about this album.  Space Cadaver is unquestionably my favorite metal album of 2017, and while I think it’s only available on cassette you owe it to yourself to get a copy and go buy a cheap boom box at the pawn shop so you can listen to it (or, of course, simply buy a download, you know, if you’re lazy like that), and Fufanu hit it out of the post-punk park with Sports.  From a genre standpoint I’m very happy with this Top 5 list as there’s great stuff here for people of almost any musical taste.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Farmacia (Argentina)
  3. Kuldaboli (Iceland)
  4. Revenge of Calculon (UK)
  5. Egyptian Lover (US)

I’ve already touched on the top two bands on this list, so let me move on to the next three.  Kuldaboli’s Vafasamur Lífsstíll 2015-2016 came out at the very end of 2016, and if I’d heard it then instead of early this year it probably would have made my top five new releases list last year - it’s that good.  I got to see him perform live at Lucky Records during Airwaves this years as well as chat with him for a few minutes - good dude.  We caught Revenge of Calculon live in the cramped, damp confines of Dillon on the last day of Airwaves and they killed it with their brand of electro-movie-horror-funk and since then I’ve picked up all four of their 7″ records.  As for Egyptian Lover… how had I gone this long without ever having heard the Lover before??  I can thank our friend Ingvar for this one.  We were chatting about music over dinner when he visited Seattle and was dumbfounded by my lack of Egyptian experience.  The next day at Silver Platters he walked up to me with a box set, pressed it in my hands, and said “you need to buy this”.  And he was right. Takk, Ingvar!

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” - Connections
  2. Driving the Bats Thru Jerusalem - Bonemen of Barumba
  3. 20 Jazz Funk Greats - Throbbing Gristle
  4. Special Offer - Sensational
  5. Suero - Farmacia

Four of the five items on this list have some kind of personal connection, actually resulting in me becoming connected with the artists.  The totally random pick-up of the Connections 7″ led me to former member Nolan Anderson and his lovely wife Catherine, who today perform as the Mad Andersons.  I was able to provide a ripped copy of the songs to Nolan, which he hadn’t heard in decades, and that made me feel really good.

My post on Bonemen of Barumba somehow found its way to former founding member Mark Panick, who stunned me when he posted on Facebook that he liked the fact that I obviously “got it” in terms of what the band was doing.  We later connected online, only to come to find out that we have a friend in common - the one and only Ingvar of Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  Mark even sports a Lucky t-shirt in a video he was in earlier this year.  Ingvar struck again with Sensational, who I turned him onto during his trip to Seattle and who he then, against all logical odds, ran into randomly on the streets of NYC just days later.  That led to me Facebook messaging with Sensational a bit and buying some mail order from him.

Oddly enough Iceland also played a part in us connecting with Ariel and Diego Sima of Farmacia in Buenos Aires - their album Suero was put out on cassette by Reykjavik’s Lady Boy Records.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the brothers while in Argentina and picked up a bunch of their back catalog from them.  As for Throbbing Gristle… this one was purely about acquisition.  My local record haunt Vortex posted on FB that they’d just acquired a bunch of experimental stuff from a local DJ and I immediately wend down to the store where I scored a couple of great condition TG titles, a great opportunity to explore some of the early works of the pioneers of industrial music.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Hatari - Gamla Bíó, Reykjavik
  2. Sir Mix-A-Lot - Nectar Lounge, Seattle
  3. Metallica - CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  4. Revenge of Calculon - Dillon, Reykjavik
  5. GusGus - Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

I thought I had this list wrapped up about a week ago.  And I did.  At least until we headed out to Nectar Lounge on Dec. 23 and caught Sir Mix-A-Lot live, which forced me into a last-minute revision.

I covered the Hatari, Revenge of Calculon, and Gusgus shows in my various posts from Iceland Airwaves this year, and actually did the same about Metallica when I wrote about the live CD of this actual show.  Each of these shows gave me something different.  Hatari was a brilliant performance, an integration of stage presence and music; Metallica was a chance to revisit my youth, the first time I’d seen the masters of thrash live since the late 1980s; Revenge of Calculon was one of those great unexpected surprises you sometimes get at live shows; and Gusgus… what more can I say about Gusgus?  They gave us a 90 minute set that had the crowd swaying and dancing the entire time and were musically brilliant as always.

As for Mix-A-Lot, he’s Seattle hip hop royalty and his 1986 debut LP Swass spent a lot of time in the cassette player of my ’84 Mustang when I was in high school.  He did shows on back-to-back nights at the intimate Nectar Lounge (max capacity 400) in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood last weekend and we had a blast at the Saturday night gig.  In addition to some new stuff, Mix gave us a ton of classics like “Testarossa”, “Beepers”, “My Hooptie”, “Swass”, and even a little “Buttermilk Biscuits”.  Of course he also played his mega-hit “Baby Got Back”, but as a Seattleite and long-time Sir Mix-A-Lot fan there was one song I HAD to hear, and he gave it to us - “Posse on Broadway”.  Rest assured Mix fans, he’s still got it.  Posse up!

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
2.  Daybreak Records, Seattle
3.  Disko Obscura, New Orleans
4.  Skully’z Recordz, New Orleans
5.  Extremem Noise Records, Minneapolis

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Smekkleysa, Reykjavik
4.  Tempo Musica, Buenos Aires
5.  Reykjavik Flea Market

easystreetcornell

I swear, much of these lists don’t change don’t change from year to year.  It would be a weird for Easy Street not to be #1 for me in North America given how often we go there, though the relatively new Daybreak Records definitely gives Easy Street a run for its money in the area of used vinyl.  Our trip to New Orleans didn’t yield a ton of music, but Disko Obscura’s collection of great synth albums was well worth the visit and the guy over at Skully’z turned us on to Space Cadaver and some good punk and metal stuff, which was cool.  I’ve been to Minneapolis a bunch of times, but somehow never made it to Extreme Noise, an oversight I was glad to correct this year - tons of great punk and metal there.  We have a trips to Portland (OR) and Denver already on the books for the first half of 2018, so I definitely have some more good record shopping in my future.

We didn’t do as much international travel this year has we have in the recent past, only visiting two countries - Iceland and Argentina (hard to say we “only” got to take two international trips this year… we’re super-fortunate to be able to travel as much as we do). Unfortunately the one thing we found to be expensive in Argentina was vinyl, which was seemingly completely out of whack with reality.  I found some exciting early punk stuff, but at $150+ per record US I just couldn’t do it.  I broke down and picked up a couple of titles, but our best success was in the tiny Tempo Musica where we loaded up on local CDs thanks to a lot of help from the owner (and some recommendations from a couple of guys working at a food truck earlier in the day!).  The rest of the shops are all in Reykjavik and you’ve likely heard me prattle on about them endlessly in the past, but all are great places to check out should you find yourself in Iceland.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti
  2. Lou Reed:  A Life by Anthony DeCurtis
  3. Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 by Cyn Collins
  4. Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone
  5. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

I didn’t do as much music reading this year as I have in years past - probably only 7-8 books total.  That being said, I’m comfortable in recommending all of these to you.  Art Sex Music is head and shoulders above the rest, giving us as it does a glimpse into the 1970s experimental scene in the UK by Throbbing Gristle member and artist Cosey Fanni Tutti.  Tutti isn’t afraid to let us know anything about her life and art, and her seemingly near-complete transparency makes for a powerful, if at times sad, read.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her work.  DeCurtis’ book on Lou Reed was deeply researched and I was primarily drawn to the more pure biographical aspects of the narrative, not so much the minutiae of Reed’s individual releases.  Complicated Fun is an entertaining and informative oral history of the Minneapolis scene, one that in many ways is reminiscent of Seattle’s, while the last two are entertaining first person tellings of hard punk rock lives.  It also features our very own Kevin Cole from Seattle’s KEXP radio, as Kevin was a noted DJ and record store owner in Minneapolis during the era.  it’s a small, small world.

 

Well, there you have it, my faithful readers.  Thank you, as always, for your support and comments.  While at times the pure need to write overwhelms me to the point where I feel like it’s something I have to do in order to not spontaneously combust, Life in the Vinyl Lane doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s put me in touch with some amazing people over the years, perhaps no year more so than 2017.  And it’s these connections that make it a truly special experience.  So no matter where you’re reading this, I say “thank you”, and I’ll see you in 2018!

Iceland Airwaves 2017 - Day 4

It’s 10:30AM Sunday in Reykjavik, and I’m tired.  Like really, really tired.  When the cathedral bells of Hallkrimskirkja started going off like crazy I was afraid we’d slept until Noon.  Though on second thought that sounds like a pretty great idea.  Saturday feels like it was Day 4 of Airwaves… of Airwaves 2016 because it seems like so long ago.

We made two off-venue stops yesterday.  The first was to catch Lady Boy Records electronic band Panos from Komodo playing at a Salvation Army second-hand store.  We didn’t realize that these dudes are also the guitarist and bassist for Godchilla, who we saw on Friday. (♠)  Their lo-fi electronica set was both fun and funny, and their cover of Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” done entirely off key was something to behold.  I felt a little bad for the old guy in the store who just wanted to buy a hat, but hey, whatever.  Later we rolled over to KEX Hostel with the intention of seeing the ambient black metal band GlerAkur, but truth be told their soundcheck, which featured FIVE guitarists, was simply too loud.  I know, I know… “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”  Fine.  I’m too old.  And I didn’t bring ear protection and would like to still be able to hear when I’m actually old.  You know, back when I was your age…

For dinner we made our annual stop at Shalimar for Pakistani food, then it was off to the Reykjavik Art Museum for the best, most stacked card of the night.  Six bands, five of which we know and four of which we’re big fans of.  We staked out a little corner nook in front of the soundboard area that put us in the heart of the action, about 50 feet from the stage in the long Art Museum room.

We basically stayed in that exact same spot for the next 6.5 hours.  First up was the female-fronted metal band Hórmónar (below).  Their lead singer’s voice was worse for wear after multiple shows during the festival, but she was a trooper and fought through it as the rest of the band compensated by turning the volume knobs to 11. (♣)  We saw them last year and they were one of the surprise new bands of the festival.  But a year later we experienced a much more confident group with a great stage presence, one that wasn’t just winging it but knew exactly what they wanted to do.

That brought us to Auður and his hyper-sexualized brand of electronic R&B.  We saw `Auður last year and were impressed with his chutzpa when he introduced the crowd to his mother, telling us this was her first time seeing him perform live and they proceeding to sing a song that very explicitly told us EXACTLY what he wanted to do to a girl, with liberal use of the F word.  That being said, his music is excellent and he’s got a great voice.  Unfortunately we’re thinking there were some kind of technical problems because 10 minutes before his set was scheduled to end and out of the blue he went all Pete Townshend on his guitar.  It didn’t break the first time, which had to hurt his hands and arms like hell, but the second attempt blew it up pretty good.  He then stormed off stage, to the seeming surprise of his electronics guy who stood there for a good 15-20 seconds before slowly closing his laptop and walking off.  Fufanu followed, playing quite a bit of material off their 2017 album Sports.  The band was tight and continues to impress as they’ve matured.  There were some technical difficulties, but the upside from my perspective is that we got to hear the title track twice.  I’m wondering if similar technical problems didn’t contribute to the untimely demise of Auður’s guitar.  RIP Auður’s guitar; we hardly knew ye.

Then came the doom metal juggernaut that is HAM (below).  We are HAM!  This was the fourth time I’ve seen a full HAM set, and the fourth time they assimilated my being into he collective known as HAM.  We are HAM!  HAM brought it hard, with a few new tracks but also classics like “Dauð Hóra” and “Partíbær”.  The intensity of the pit grew over the course of the set as more and more horns were thrown and by the closing number the area in front of the stage more resembled a riot than a concert.  All another day in the life of one of Iceland’s first metal bands.  If HAM is playing live at Airwaves, I’ll always try to catch them at least once.

After the HAM show my buddy turned to me and said, “I kind of wish we could fast forward past this next band and get to Gusgus”.  I understand the sentiment in that we were all really looking forward to a 90 minute Gusgus set, but I was intrigued by the fact that the next band was from Mali.  How did they end up on this card?  Well, I still don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is that Songhoy Blues (below) reminded us why we spent all that money and flew all those miles to get to Reykjavik with their incredibly high energy and super positive vibe set of afro-funk-rock.  The crowd ate it up, and I for one will be ordering their new album Résistance when we return home.

And that, my friends, brings us to Gusgus (below).  A stripped down version of Gusgus this time around, with only Biggi and Daniel on stage.  And they killed it for 90 minutes with a combination of somewhat recent material, most of it from 24/7 forward and including what I believe were some new numbers from the upcoming album.  It was a nearly non-stop river of music flowing over us, with the guys building and building the tension before finally giving us the release of the drop.  They were in top form, and while we were staggeringly tired when we walked out the door at 2AM I’m sure we’d have stayed another hour if they’d kept going.

Last night at the Art Museum was one of the all-time great start-to-finish lineups we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  It’ll take a few days or weeks to reflect to truly make that decision in my mind, as it’s too easy in the emotions of the moment to say “this is the most amazing moment ever”, forgetting that it’s not the first time you’ve felt this way.

There isn’t a lot of interest on the schedule tonight, but you never know what Airwaves has in store for you…

(♠) Which, to my sleep-deprived mind, seems like three years ago.

(♣) And they still weren’t even remotely as loud as GlerAkur.