Monthly Archives: July 2014

…2014 w 31 – Album of the week is ”Polydistortion” by Gus Gus.

There´s been an inordinate number of Icelandic records recently in my album of the week category, continuing this week. As I´ve said before, the number of talented musicians that this very small country has produced is absolutely staggering. Even if you choose to forget about Björk there´s so much more to like. Gus Gus, The Leaves, Hjaltalín, Múm, Ólöf Arnalds, Seabear, Sin Fang and Of monsters and men. This said, don´t get me started on older stuff like The Sugarcubes, Tappi Tikarass and Purrkur Pillnikk.

PolydistortionEvery time a new Gus Gus album is released, I buy it only to be reminded of the glory of the old days. The newest one “Mexico” released 2014 is actually quite good, but still can´t compete with their early material. Second album “Polydistortion” from 1997 is one of those records that doesn´t seem to age like it should. Now, 17 years on, it still comes across like something fresh and adventureous. Some music magazine or other made me aware of this group which otherwise would definitely have passed under my radar, and the sounds they made were absolutely mind-blowing. Melodic electronica sexy as hell with a mysterious edge.

Opener “OH (edit)” is an atmospheric prelude to what´s to come, namely the polyrhythmic “Gun” complete with soulfull lyrics and bubbling synthesizers. “Believe” takes the concept further with its propulsive beats and understated melody. “Polyesterday” combines elements of jazzy improvisation with electronic soul into an elegantly flowing rendition of the dance music of the future. The falsetto singing of “Barry” combines blues harmonica and piano with a dance beat into something decisively new. “Cold breath ´79” blends aetherial female vocals with sparse electronic rhythms and keyboard structures into a bobbing, swaying piece of sheer beauty.

“Why?” goes into jazz and blues territory, with eloquent piano and heartfelt female vocals. “Remembrance” returns to the electronic side of the band, while still being Gus Gus´s version of an emotional ballad. Sparse “Is Jesus your pal?” has vocals from Emilíana Torrini of Lord of the Rings fame, desolate and enchanting. Closer “Purple” is an instrumental also present in a different version on later album “Gus Gus vs T-World”.

So, what we´re getting here is a seminal album by a band at the peak of their abilities, everything still remaining fresh and new. Next record “This is normal” might have more of their all-time hits, but this is the one I truly love.

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…it´s Bourbon time agan – American whiskey tasting no 4.

Hancock´s President´s ReserveHancock´s President´s Reserve, 88,9 proof (44,45%).

Made by the Buffalo Trace distillery , boasting a history of producing spirits going back to 1792. The company makes a fairly large variety of whiskeys, and are also distilling for other makers amongst them Blanton´s (to be tested at a later date).

This particular whiskey is a single barrel, made from a mash bill of an undisclosed but high rye content. Amber colour and a light, quite elegant nose beginning with sweetness and citrus notes followed by a short rye white pepper. Neat in a tasting glass it´s got a nice bourbon character, with some sweetness and lemon and a short, dry rye ending. In tumbler with some ice the citrus in the nose is enhanced, while the rye ending of the taste dominates.

The whiskey comes in an elegant, chubby decanter-like bottle, made extremely cheap-looking by a ghastly label. Hailed by many as a benchmark bourbon in it´s price range, I still find it curiously lacking allure. Nice and honest but still not something I´m sure I´m going to return to.

Buffalo TraceBuffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 80 proof (40%).

Coming from the same distillery as the Hancock´s, this gives the impression of being aimed at a mass market. The mash bill contains corn from Kentucky and Indiana, as well as rye and malted barley. The whiskey is blended from several barrels of different age.

Light amber colour. The nose is dominated by sweet caramel, vanilla toffee and a short spiciness in the finish. Neat in a tasting glass we get a smooth whiskey with sweet caramel, vanilla and some rye spiciness in the finish. In a tumbler with ice both the nose and the palate turns more into rye territory, with a medium long finish.

Bottle-wise we´re getting something trying to look traditional, without really having that much of an identity. Frankly a bit anonymous and without any qualities that would draw you back.

FEW BourbonFEW Bourbon Whiskey, 93 proof (46,5%).

As I´ve understood it a fairly new craft distillery, founded in Evanston, Illinois, a town known for it´s long track record of temperance. Historically also the home of one of the big players responsible for the 18th amendment to the American constitution that started the prohibition era, the national president of Women´s Christian Temperance Movement, Frances Elizabeth Willard. In a slightly ironic gesture, the FEW distillery has taken its name from her initials.

Apart from this bourbon, the company also makes a rye, a white whiskey and gin. The mash bill of the FEW bourbon is declared as 70 % corn, 20 % rye and 10 % malt. Distilled and barreled at 57,5 % in charred barrels from Minnesota.

Deep glowing amber colour. Complex, long nose with the corn sweetness, caramel and vanilla you should expect from a bourbon, turning into a long finish of burnt sugar and without much trace of it´s rye content. Neat in a tasting glass it begins very dry but with some passing bourbon sweetness, rapidly turning into a very long, fiery rye spice. The palate notably lacks much evidence of the barrel maturation. In a tumbler with ice the nose gets sweeter with vanilla competing with malt. On the palate much more sweetness emerges almost totally bypassing the earlier dryness.

A few words about the bottle. Heavy, chunky and with a very nice feel to it. The label paying homage to Chicago´s 1893 World´s Fair. We shouldn´t let ourselves be fooled by appearances, but this is nevertheless an example of really nice packaging adding to the aura of the product.

A lot of promise here, but should probably benefit from a longer period in barrels. I do believe that this whiskey has interesting possibilities for future greatness. Definitely a distillery that I´m going to follow.

…2014 w 30 – Album of the week is ”Flowers” by Sin Fang.

Sin Fang treemouthIcelandic musical prodigy Sindri Már Sigfússon started Seabear as a one man project as early as 2003, later to grow into a seven-piece band and releasing their debut “The ghost that carried us away” in 2007. This album was my first contact with his music and is still remembered as one of the year´s highlights. Seabear being a seemingly loose collective of musicians, all members have different side-projects going on. For Sindri Már´s part beginning with his first solo album “Clangour”, released in 2008 under the name Sin Fang Bous. The name was shortened to only Sin Fang for “Summer Echoes”, released 2011.

Sing Fang FlowersEarly 2013 saw the release of his latest offering “Flowers”, which I of course picked up during my recent visit to Iceland. An album of intricate, dreamy pop with songs both lush and interestingly textured. “Young boys” opens with the chanted chorus “We were young boys smoking in the woods, I showed you how, I showed you how”, not something you´d expect someone from Iceland would have experienced. “What´s wrong with your eyes” has a big sound with almost stadium-like qualities, but in a good way. First single “Look at the light” is beautifully instrumented shimmering pop, with beats.

And so it continues through this very appealing album which at least to me is more pop than the folktronica-label that´s often applied to Sin Fang. Production duties are handled by Alex Somers, who manages to keep the often densely layered music airy and fresh. Probably a record that´s going to keep for a long time.

Take a look at this video for both good music and pictures from Reykjavik and other Icelandic locations.

…the new film version of” L´Écume des jours” is a must see.

Boris VianBoris Vian, born in Paris 1920, managed during his relatively short life to make himself known as a musician, singer, translator, writer, poet, critic, actor, inventor and engineer. Although not gaining that much attention upon their publication, today he´s probably most recognized for his novels. Despite professional friendships with contemporary Existentialist icons Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus, his philosophy could be more aptly described as belonging to the Pataphysics originated by Alfred Jarry.

In English translation “L´écume des jours” became “Froth on the daydream”, telling the story of independently wealthy young Colin, living a privileged life with his colourful servant and cook Nicolas. Colin´s days are filled with exotic dinners with his friend Chick and experimenting with the pianocktail, a piano that mixes and serves up cocktails with ingredients depending on the keys played. All of this changes when Colin meets and falls in love with the beautiful Chloé. They are quickly wed and during their honeymoon disaster strikes. Chloé falls ill and develops a mysterious affliction where a water-lily grows in one of her lungs. Despite heroic efforts from Colin´s side, she succumbs leaving him heartbroken and destitute.

I remember falling for the romanticism of the novel when first reading it in my early twenties. Very different in content and tone, with a dreamlike quality just about balancing the obvious absurdity. The subplot of Chick´s obsession with the works of philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (Sartre in pretty translucent disguise) is a source of both humour and sadness, as it distances him from his beloved Alise. If you haven´t already, this book is definitely a recommended read, and while you´re at it why not have a go at his other novel “Autumn in Peking” too.

Not intuitively a story that would seem fit for a movie treatment, “L´Écume des jours” has however been filmed twice before. The first time by Charles Belmont in 1968 with the English title “Spray of the days”, later followed by an adaptation by Japanese director Go Riju called “Chloe”. Not having seen any of them I´m in no position to comment on their qualities.

Michel GondryConsidering the themes and feel of this literary work, it´s not that surprising that French-born director Michel Gondry would decide to have another go at taking it to the silver screen. Beginning as a rock band drummer, Gondry quickly went from directing his band´s videos to becoming one of the most lauded music video directors of his generation, making seminal works for the likes of Björk, Massive Attack, Radiohead and The Rolling Stones (to name but a few). The creative freedom in video-making allowed him to develop a truly unique visual style, which he brought with him into his second career as feature film director.

Working together with meta-script writer Charlie Kaufman on his first two full length films made for hugely imaginative movies, with the second one “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” (2004) being a success both in the eyes of critics and the general public. The following “The science of sleep” (2006) maintained the surrealistic imagery while being slightly marred by a poorer script. His foray into comedy, “Be kind rewind” (2008), chronicling the two hapless video store clerks that has to recreate popular movies themselves after inadvertently erasing the store´s whole stock of VHS-tapes, was definitely more lightweight (most memorable for coining the term “sweded”, now in use in popular culture).His next two movies not feeling that interesting (2011´s “The green hornet” and 2012´s “The We and the I”), the prospect of Gondry taking on Boris Vian´s novel was much more intriguing.

Mood IndigoGoing by the English title “Mood Indigo” this is something that needs to be seen to be believed. Recreating the intricate Rube Goldberg-type contraptions of Colin´s home (most notably the Pianocktail) takes an imagination like Gondry´s. The style is kinetic, visually exciting and bafflingly original. I must confess to having a sweet spot for Audrey Tautou and she´s perfectly casted as Chloé, her acting so receptive to the overall surreal feel of the film. The story is of course absurd, but that´s not the point. If you´re prepared to suspend disbelief and just let the heart quiet the brain for a while there´s a wonderful experience awaiting. More of a hallucinatory, synaesthetic visual poem, where emotions shape the physical world, than a regular story. The musical prose of jazz aficionado Vian coming to life before our eyes and tickling the senses. And do notice the use of colour as an emotional cue, as we go from the hyper-intense Dali-like hues in the beginning to the gloomy grey-blacks of the chilling final scenes.

There´s a certain creative courage needed to go where this film goes, after all you´re expected to please the box office too. That said, it´s hard to imagine money raining down on this one. Maybe I´m just getting old, but it´s also becoming more and more refreshing with a film where violence is not a significant ingredient. While being one of the most used clichés of critical writing, this is probably a love-it or hate-it type of movie. I´m in the first group. Go see.

…2014 w 29 – Album of the week is ”Sudden Elevation” by Olöf Arnalds.

The past week has been spent visiting the wife´s relatives in her native Iceland, a country charmed by uniqueness in more ways than can be counted. As always, I´ve returned with a collection of new Icelandic music bought from the excellent 12 Tónar record store. How a population of little more than 300 000 can have so many talented artists is really beyond comprehension, but so it goes.

Olöf Arnalds After several years as a touring musician with Icelandic experimental electronic group Múm, Olöf Arnalds released her debut album in 2007. I first became aware of her presence with second album “Innundir skinni” 2010, which delivered a set of delicate, spellbinding indie folk songs crossed with contemporary pop sensibilities that was impossible not to like. Sung almost exclusively in Icelandic, the accompanying booklet provided translations of the lyrics that almost matched the poetic sensitivity of the originals.

2011 saw the release of the EP “Olöf sings”, consisting of an eclectic selection of covers performed in English with only guitar and voice. Naked and beautiful this was one of my favourite records of the year, being very close up and personal while at the same time paying respect to formative influences. The wonderful version of Neil Diamond´s “Solitary Man” aquires new dimensions being performed by a wistful female voice.

Sudden elevationNew album “Sudden Elevation” seems aimed at an international career being sung entirely in English, losing some of the allure of earlier esoteric Icelandic lyrics. Musically dominated by minimalistic fingerpicked guitar it´s still her expressive voice that carries these personal songs with themes of sadness and hope. Partially recorded in her own house in Reykjavik and in the stunning environment of Iceland´s Hvalfjördur, this music is despite the English very Icelandic in many ways.

“German Fields” opens the album with percussion-driven pop and a sunny chorus of weightless beauty. “Bright and still” presents alluring harmonies accompanying a declaration of love directed at some undisclosed neglected party. Digging deep into folk song tradition, “Return Again” is one of the album´s most serene and beautiful songs, with a vocal tour de force consisting a highlight of her career.

While slightly derivative, “Treat her kindly” still has lively vocals just barely making up for unremarkable lyrics. Great guitar playing makes “Call it what you want” pleasurable despite disturbingly affected singing not serving the song. “All a little grim” contrasts the pretty conventional verses with the dreamlike haziness of the chorus, lifting you up into a different sphere.

“Numbers and names” combines melodic fingerpicking with a standout chorus on a tune both brief and sweet. Title song “Sudden Elevation” seemingly deals with the stress of success in a deceptively simple musical guise. Closer “Perfect” is both straightforward and complex with undulating melodies travelling from guitar to vocals and back again. The closing coda “perfectly imperfect” nicely sums up this immensely enjoyable record.

…new Showtime series “Penny Dreadful” is really something.

Penny DreadfulCreated by John Logan, and produced by Logan and “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes, this feels like the television equivalent of a DJ mashup. Named after the cheap 19th century British pulp publications containing sensational and lurid stories, this series runs amok amongst the most well-known Victorian horror figures. Set in Jack the Ripper-period London we get characters out of Bram Stoker´s “Dracula” and Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde, as well as Mary Shelley´s “Frankenstein”. Add to this a hearty dose of Egyptian occultism and an American gunslinger called Ethan Chandler played by Josh Hartnett. Mix with an atmospherically rendered 19th century London as well as actually pretty gruesome gore, and you´re starting to understand what this piece of television is like. They even move the Grand Guignol theatre from Paris to London to get the right feeling.

The storyline revolves around explorer Sir Malcolm Murray and the enigmatic Vanessa Ives, caught in a quest to rescue the abducted daughter of Sir Malcolm, now in the claws of someone probably not quite human. Several parallell subplots gives the story a little more depth, and it´s hard to know where this is going to end. That said, I do suspect that Ethan Chandler is going to turn up as a werewolf later in the series, if I interpret the hints correctly.

Well-produced and often quite scary, even if slightly too heavy on the gore for my taste. Totally ridiculous in many ways, but still strangely entertaining. Check it out.

…2014 w 27 – Album of the week is “Psychocandy” by The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Jesus and Mary ChainRock music is becoming increasingly self-reflective and two of the most enduring trends are extensive anniversary reissues and the recreation of earlier records live on stage. Even though some of the reissues are a dream come true for completists, the sour taste of speculation and backwards-looking nostalgia can´t be disguised. The history of rock as a theme park attraction wasn´t what we were hoping for, but money talks and the demand fuels the supply.

According to the latest issue of Uncut magazine The Jesus and Mary Chain are planning a series of concerts playing their classic debut album “Psychocandy” in its entirety, original running order and all. Well, what can you say. Everybody needs to pay their bills I suppose. It might even be interesting to see how these now middle-aged musicians deals with a work so much a product of its time and their youth.

PsychocandyUpon its release in 1985 this album not only blew minds but also pushed rock music forward into new territory. Its blend of pure noise and Beach Boys melodies proved to be one of the first attempts at deconstructing the sometimes pretty complacent institution that rock music had become, as things slowly returned to normal after the anomaly that was punk. I still remember the excitement of first hearing debut single “Upside down”, 3 minutes of pure genius that still makes me jump up and down 30 years later.

Click this link to listen.

Apart from being one of the most cool-looking bands ever, you had the now legendary 20 minute gigs and the rioting. There was a definite year-zero feeling that culminated in the release of their first full-lenght album. Although later albums had many of their greatest songs, nothing can diminish the punch of this first effort. From the laid-back sweetness of “Just like honey”, the thrashing “The living end” through the epic second single “Never understand” this is in every respect a remarkable album. The cocky determination of a band that´s confident that they´re going to change the future of pop music. Even after all this time “Psychocandy” reverberates with a bold freshness not often heard. A classic if there ever was one.

As Warner won´t allow me to embed the video, you can listen to “Some Candy talking” by following this link.