The Best of 2012

I figured I’d wrap up 2012 with a series of Top 5 lists to share the different ways I enjoyed music over the course of the last year, probably in part because I just finished re-reading Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity which, like the movie, has lots of Top 5 lists created by Rob, Dick, and Barry. All of this is, of course, purely subjective… I don’t pretend to have been exposed to a broad array of music, so I’m sure there’s some amazing stuff out there that not only does not appear on my lists, but that I’ve never even heard of. But such is life. So with that…. on to the lists!

Top 5 New Releases in 2012

1. Fearless – Legend
2. Live at Gamla Bíó – Agent Fresco
3. Division of Culture & Tourism – Ghostigital
4. K2R – Halleluwah
5. Börn Loka – Skálmöld

I feel like this list might seem a bit pretentious, since all these bands are from Iceland… and I am not. However, with Iceland Airwaves being the biggest week each year on my calendar, and considering how many bands I saw there this year (36), it kind of makes sense. Ironically the only one of these I have on vinyl is K2R, though I do have the limited edition vinyl release of Ghostigital on order. And unintentionally this is a pretty good mix of genres – goth/electronic (Legend), alt (Agent Fresco), industrial (Ghostigital), hip hop (Halleluwah), and hard core metal (Skálmöld).

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands

1. Legend (Iceland)
2. Lama (Finland)
3. Ghostland Observatory (Texas)
4. Skálmöld (Iceland)
5. Shabazz Palaces (Seattle)

Most of these bands, other than maybe Legend, are not new. But they were new to me in 2012 – I’d never heard of them before. I also had the opportunity to see all of them except Lama live over the course of the year, which certainly increased my interest and appreciation in them. Check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

 1. Miranda – Tappi Tikarrass
2. Rokk Í Reykjavík
3. The Fourth Reich
– Þeyr
4. Seattle Syndrome, Vols. 1-2
5. Mistakes 7″ – Gruppo Sportivo

The top two on this list came from an unexpected source – the flea market in downtown Reykjavik. I figured I was already done with all my vinyl buying when we walked in, but there was a seller with tons of vinyl including these hard to find gems. They weren’t cheap, but both were on my short list of things I wanted to find while I was in Iceland, so I was happy to pay the price. The Fourth Reich was a surprise find at Trash Palace in Stockholm. The Seattle Syndrome records came to me a day apart, and from different sources, and are a great snapshot of the early 1980s Seattle music scene. The Gruppo Sportivo 7″ I ran across in someone’s garage, and it sort of opened my mind to taking a chance on stuff that I wasn’t familiar with.

Top 5 Live Shows

1. Agent Fresco (acoustic) – Nordic House, Reykjavik
2. Legend – Gamli Gaukurinn, Reykjavik
3. Ghostigital – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4. Devil Makes Three – Showbox Market, Seattle
5. Ghostland Observatory – Showbox SODO, Seattle

I could have easily gone strictly with shows we saw at Airwaves, but the two Seattle entries were both strong and featured bands I really like a lot. The Agent Fresco show was the best, hands down, as the intimacy of the tiny Nordic House venue and the emotional power of the show was almost overwhelming.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

1. Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2. Easy Street Records, Seattle
3. Trash Palace, Stockholm
4. Jive Time, Seattle
5. Amoeba Records, Los Angeles

I found great stuff in all these places in 2012, and hope to shop at four of them again in 2013 (unfortunately I have no plans to go back to Sweden…). They all have great selections and are well organized, and I could spend hours flipping through their inventories.

Top 5 Websites

1. Dust & Grooves – Record collector profiles and photos
2. Vinyl Noize – Blurbs on rare punk and metal vinyl for sale on eBay
3. Discogs – THE place to research artists and records
4. I Love Icelandic Music Blog – No longer getting new posts, but still great
5. Wikipedia – It has it’s limitations, but a good place to get basic info on bands

Top 5 Music Books

1. Stuð vors lands by Dr. Gunni
2. Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds
3. Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm
4. Iggy Pop – Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka
5. How Music Works by David Byrne

All in all it was a great year, musically speaking (and in lots of other ways as well, to be sure). My vinyl library grew considerably (see photo) – I’m not sure how many new discs I added, but in all honesty it has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 or so. I suspect that will slow down a bit in 2013… but then again, we’re hoping to go to Iceland twice next year (fingers crossed), and we’re planning to hit up Tokyo as well… so time will tell.

I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

Skálmöld – “Börn Loka”

Sigur Ros had a big show on the last night of Iceland Airwaves 2012, and a large portion of the festival-goers bought tickets to see the Icelandic sensation. Frankly, we’re not big Sigur Ros fans, so we saved our money and figured we’d find a nice small venue to hang out in, drink some beers (using the money we saved by not buying Sigur Ros tickets), and rock out. And that, my friends, is how we came to experience Skálmöld.

Norberto and I caught them playing a couple of songs at a different venue earlier in the trip, but Holly had never seen them before. In fact, Holly’s experience with live metal shows was really limited, and she’d never seen one at a small, full venue. So there was some excitement as the six members of Skálmöld situated themselves on the awfully small stage at Gamli Gaukurinn. The roughly 200 people in the crowd were packed in fairly close, and it was obvious that many of them were big fans. And then the band started to play. And heavy metal exploded throughout the room. And it was good. No, it was great. I’ve never seen another band that looks like they’re having more fun than Skálmöld – fun playing together, fun interacting with the crowd, fun dropping that heavy metal hammer. A small group of guys with really long hair were headbanging off to one side, while a rather well behaved mosh pit formed in front of the stage. From our vantage point in the back corner of the venue (which is all of 25 feet from the stage) you could see the heads bobbing and the fists clenched as the fans fed off the band’s energy and music.

So what of the band’s 2012 release, Börn Loka? Well, it’s their second full length album (their first, Baldur, was originally released in 2009), and while I don’t have their first effort as a point of comparison, based on the strength of Börn Loka I’m going to need to check it out. The album’s title translates to “Loki’s Children”, and for those of you who weren’t paying attention in mythology class (if you were even lucky enough to learn anything at all about classic Greek, Roman, and Nordic mythology in school…) Loki was the son of Odin, brother of Thor. He was known as a cunning trickster who was always screwing around and messing with his fellow gods, and who actually fought against them at the end of days, Ragnarök (I knew all that mythology reading and Dungeons & Dragons would come in handy some day!). In keeping with the theme, all 10 tracks relate in some way to Norse mythology, which is fitting given the style of music Skálmöld plays.

Skálmöld describes their style as “battle metal”, and I’ve seen others call them “Viking folk metal”. Both are pretty apt. But if I was going to try to explain their music to you, I’d probably forego the labels and say it this way. If one of the songs on Börn Loka were in a movie, you’d know when the song came on that somebody was about to get what they had coming to them. It’s the music you hear when the hero, who has been beaten down and lost everything that he held dear, comes back for revenge. He’s on his horse, he has some buddies riding with him. There are probably swords and battle axes. Someone is about to get served, and you can’t wait to see how it all goes down. It’s Arthur’s knights riding out of Camelot to face Mordred; it’s Conan against the forces of Thulsa Doom (but not Queen Taramis and Dagoth, because Conan the Destroyer was kind of lame); it’s the final battle in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; it’s Wyatt Earp against the Cowboys; it’s the Nerds against the Jocks in Revenge of the Nerds. Get some! Skálmöld is metal, no doubt. But I don’t think of their music as thrash, or speed, but more “epic”. Not in the way we tend to use the term today to just mean really awesome (though it IS really awesome), but as in an epic tale. That being said, any band featuring a three-guitar attack has plenty of speed and plenty of metal.

The entire album is solid from top to bottom, though a couple of tracks really stick out for me. “Gleipnir” has a cool intro that sounds almost Celtic both in its pacing and instrumentation, before breaking out into a metal onslaught. It’s a distinctive track, and the opening chords always make me stop what I’m doing for a couple of seconds to absorb it. “Himinhrjóðu” isn’t so much a song as some evil force being killed… quite literally – the music is atmospheric and at the end it sounds like something getting hacked to pieces. My favorite track is “Miðgarðsormur”, which has folkish, chanting lyrics at parts that both set the mood and the pace. This is real swords and sorcery stuff.

If you’re into metal, Skálmöld is for you. Musically they’re solid, even featuring a keyboard player (don’t be a hater – their keyboard player rocks) who also plays the oboe. Good luck finding that somewhere else. Their song composition is excellent, and they do a great job in using different vocal styles to fit the mood – chanting, harmony, and just flat out metal growling. Both Börn Loka and Baldur are available on iTunes, so you have no excuse, metalheads. Get your hands on some Skálmöld and release your inner Viking.

Ian Dury – “New Boots and Panties!!’

This is installment number two in my series of guest bloggers, as my friend Matt and I discuss the punk-lounge experience that was Ian Dury.

JEFF: As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I was late getting to the punk game. As in really late. As in, I didn’t start exploring punk and it’s contributions to rock until last year. Sure, I knew who the Sex Pistols were when I was a teenager, and I even had an album by The Clash, but to be honest I dabbled briefly in new wave before going straight to arena and classic rock, with some hair metal thrown in, and I stayed in that rut for a long, long time.

I ran across Ian Dury in Clinton Heylin’s book Babylon’s Burning, so when I came across a copy of New Boots and Panties!! at my local used record store I brought it home. And boy was I in for a surprise, because it’s certainly not what I thought of when I thought of “punk”. So I figured it would be fun to talk to my friend Matt, who actually had an Ian Dury album in his collection that he bought during his formative years to get some different perspectives on Dury’s music. Matt, do you remember how you first got turned on to Ian Dury?

MATT: I do. It was as a kid listening to Dr. Demento’s late-night radio show, and the track was “Spasticus Autisticus.” It was a catchy, highly irreverent disco-beat perversion and it played well into my pre-teen fascination with the strange (and my disdain for all things “disco”). But Dr. Demento’s show was a showcase for novelty tracks and cultishly bad music, and I think it’s sort of a shame that Ian Dury’s work got caught up in that net.

JEFF: Yeah, it seems odd to put him into the same type of genre as Weird Al or Barnes and Barnes (think “Fish Heads”). Dury had me hooked right from the first track on this album, “Wake Up and Make Love with Me.” He was one of the early English singers who just put his full-blown, thick accent out there and didn’t try to hide it when he sang, and I think that really gives this whole album (and his stuff in general) a more “real” sound to it. He’s almost talking through the song, like Sinatra or some of the other old-timers did sometimes. Plus the music has a great jazz-funk sound to it, which really made me sit up and realize, “oh, this is going to be something totally different,” and in a good way.

MATT: Dury’s audience was probably local and intimate, so your Sinatra lounge comparison is apt. Those attending his performances at that time undoubtedly understood his accent and the context of his lyrics, which seem foreign to mainstream American ears (“Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll” was probably his biggest U.S. success). The music is tight & talented and wry, to me sort of a different flavor of punk, one more melodic and playful but still performed at someone else’s expense. I think I’m appreciating it differently as an adult than I did as a teen, now that I’m tending to value subtlety and wit over shock & awe.

JEFF: The thing that really gets me about his music, and this album in particular, is the number of songs he wrote that are obviously about real people he knew. This isn’t the Alanis Morissette “I’m going to write a song about every guy who every dumped me” kind of thing, but more that these were the people that lived in Dury’s world. “Billericay Dickie” and “Plaistow Patricia” are great examples, but the real gem is “My Old Man,” which I think is an amazing, honest homage to his father (who was a bus driver, and later a chauffeur). Dury really stays true to his working-class roots, which is all the more important give how important class was (is?) in English society.

MATT: True all that. Enjoy spinning that vinyl and polishing your best Cockney rhyming slang. Sometimes the cheese needs a little ripening before it’s appreciated as gourmet.

JEFF: Well folks, there you have it… two out of two reviewers give a thumbs up to Ian Dury’s New Boots and Panties!! I think it’s held up really well considering it’s about 35 years old, and certainly worth checking out. And if the music isn’t cool enough for you, you have to at least give Dury props for doing a great album cover with his then five-year-old son – it’s one of my favorite covers of the era, and a perfect example of why vinyl with it’s larger size will always be a more full musical experience than CD.

Trevor Jackson Presents – “Metal Dance (Industrial / Post-Punk / EBM Classics & Rarities 80-88)”

Yes, I know. Another comp.

Metal Dance is way, and I mean waaayyyyy, out of my comfort zone. The vinyl copy consists of 11 tracks (apparently the CD version has 28 – I might have to look for that…) spread over two discs with nice deep grooves that give the whole thing a really rich sound. And the selection of artists and tracks is top notch. I’ve had very little exposure to industrial dance music (other than listening to and being completely freaked out by my friend Jason’s Skinny Puppy LPs in the late 1980s – I was all about the classic rock, Jason was all about goth and speed metal… which can only really work when you’re teenagers), but the album grabbed me right from the start with Cabaret Voltaire’s “Seconds Too Late,” followed immediately by Neon’s “Voices.” If those two songs can’t get you moving, you might be dead, or at least very badly injured.

Jackson does a good job not just in selecting the bands and songs, but also in combining tracks with vocals and instrumentals. Mixing the two gives the whole thing a more pleasing feel – I don’t feel like I’m about to go into a Kraftwerk daze overload, nor do I get too caught up in trying to figure out what singers are going on about. Personally I’m able to stay focused on the music and the beat, and that’s got to be the whole point of an album called Metal Dance (“Welcome to Sprockets. This is the part of the show where we dance.”)

I’d only heard of three artists on this album when I picked it up – Cabaret Voltaire, Nitzer Ebb, and Jah Wobble. And none of them disappointed. Plus I found some new cool bands like Neon and DAF. Overall, it’s a score.


Attentat – “Jag Skall Inte Bli Som Dom”

Formed in 1978, Attentat was one of the earliest punk bands to start up in Sweden. Their name, as I understand it, translates to “Attacks” in Swedish, though the word also has links the anarchism movement and refers to “propagation of the deed”, often referring to terrorist attacks. I have no idea if that’s a coincidence, but associations between punks and the idea of socio-politco anarchy were not uncommon.

I picked this up at one of the Bensgans record stores in Stockholm earlier this year. Bengans is basically a chain store, so I was surprised to find this nugget in their vinyl section – though I shouldn’t have been, because Sweden has a strong relationship to both punk and metal, and the store carried a pretty robust selection, especially metal. It turns out that Jag Skall Inte Bli Som Dom (“I Don’t Want to be Like Them” in English, according to the insert) was a limited edition release in 2010 with only 1,000 copies pressed – 300 in red vinyl, the other 700 in black (mine is black). The insert is in English and provides a brief background on the band and the materials appearing on the record, which includes all their early Killed by Death singles from 1978-80 on side A, while side B has some other assorted tracks including the previously unreleased “Jag Skall Inte Bli Som Dom” and “Vad E De Jag Söker?”.

Overall this is a solid collection of early, classic European punk rock. The songs are tight and fast, and even though all the singing is in Swedish, it’s melodic and fits well with the music. Side A is the hard stuff, while side B is much more melodic and actually shows off the band’s musical talents way more than the pure punk songs do. I was looking forward to getting my hands on some early punk while in Scandinavia, and I think I scored with this disc and a CD from Finnish punks Lama (which I reviewed in my entry of Sept. 16, 2012). Attentat brings it, and Jag Skall Inte Bli Som Dom is well worth the price (I’ve seen copies on red vinyl in the $20 range) if you’re into classic punk rock.