Null and Void – “Happiness and Contempt” b/w “Montage Morte” (2014)

Odd that I’m reviewing this album today, since the band is called Null and Void, and my most recent prior post also included a review of a band called Null & Void. Though the two bands couldn’t be much more different. And not just because of the ampersand. This Null and Void did synthy weirdness in the early 1980s. The other Null & Void is a black metal band from Iceland. Both are certainly outside the mainstream, but even if they had been contemporaries I can’t fathom them ever being on the same card (though it would probably be an intriguing night, and I would absolutely go).

This is actually sort of double re-release by Seattle’s own Medical Records label, who may be single handedly trying to keep the 80s art electro-pop dream alive. Thank god someone is doing it. It consists of the complete Happiness and Contempt (1980) and Montage Morte (1982) albums, each of which consisted of six songs. And it’s some trippy business.

The Happiness and Contempt side is truly bizarre. “Procreation” may be the best example of just plain weirdness, with sampled vocals and sounds, then with what I’m almost positive is a plink-plonky version of “Anchor’s Away” imbedded into it. Enough to make your brain start to slightly liquify. There are a few more normal sounding poppy numbers on this side as well, such as “Dogs of Christ,” but it still manages to get in some extended periods of the same vocal line being repeated over and over and over and over again to the same chord, which is a bit nails-on-the-chalkboard (and it’s called “Dogs of Christ”). I’ll confess to preferring the other side over this one, though Happiness and Contempt certainly has value as an experimental piece that gives a good sense of the space and time – sort of post-punk moving away from new wave but towards synth-pop.

Things take a bit of a darker turn in Montage Morte, but despite this I still find it to be the much more approachable side. If you’re into some of the more moody 80s stuff of say The Cure, I think this will be kind if your ballpark – though this isn’t nearly as rich as The Cure, by any means. Null and Void retained their electronic structure, but they also got more advanced both musically and vocally. This isn’t just about making noise; it’s about making songs. “Party Filled With Theives” is a synth-pop version of The Doors’ “The End” (not a cover… I mean in spirit), and might be the most interesting song on this collection.

Medical Records does a great job in curating these re-releases, picking intriguing, obscure acts and giving them a first class treatment from the vinyl to the jackets to the inserts. Really top notch, and they do it at a very reasonable release price, so make sure to check them out.

Icelandic Black Metal Cassettes from Vánagandr

I have been majorly soul-crushed by some crazy virus this week. It started with a sore throat that eventually progressed to the point that it felt like I was swallowing glass-laced whiskey. Followed a few days later by massive congestion and coughing. I haven’t been able to hear out of my right ear for three days. And I’m home alone this week, since Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane is traveling for work. I have left the house exactly four times in the last four days, attempting to work from home. Twice I walked to the mailbox. Once I drove to a McDonalds less than a mile away. And once I drove to the teriyaki place. That’s even closer to my house than McDonalds. That’s it. Probably 15 minutes outside in four days.

I may be losing my mind.

So what better time to crack into those Icelandic black metal tapes I brought back from Airwaves in November, right? Right??

My man Gustur at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records is all about tapes. Tapes, tapes, tapes. He’s the Count of Cassettes, and I have him to thank for helping me secure one of the five (yes… only five…) cassette copies of the recently released Icelandic music compilation Snarl 4. When I asked him if there was anything new and particularly interesting out, he pointed me to a small stack of tapes behind the counter, all fairly recent releases by the Icelandic indie label Vánagandr. All of it black metal. He was pretty stoked about them, and he’s not even a metal guy. Plus, they were pretty cheap.

And I passed on them.

And then after thinking about them for two days I went back and bought a copy of each. Because why not? I like Iceland, I like metal, and I like to support the indie bands and labels. Plus I’d recently bought a used Technics bookshelf stereo with a tape deck specifically for this kind of scenario. So the next time I was in there (which was seemingly three times a day during Airwaves) I scooped one of each of the four titles he had in stock.

Which brings me to tonight, sitting here listening to the debut album by Null & Void, which came out back in August 2014. It’s one long track – a 34-minute exploration of heavy, oppressive doom, occasionally punctuated by some tormented, wailing vocals. It’s relentless. Sometimes it comes at you as a sludgy bludgeoning, other times with breakneck intensity, shredding guitars, and super-fast drums. And the transition from one pace to the other is jarring to your mind, like someone flipping a switch in that base, primordial unconscious. I like Null & Void best at their slowest, their weightiest, their most smothering, with the sense of underworld doom that give the vocals their perfect showcase (though damn those guitars are good too…).

And then there’s Naðra with their release Eitur, a two-song 17-minute burst of hell that came out back in April. Naðra comes at you right out of the gate like a rabid Cerberus, lashing out at the dead who are trying to escape the underword to get back to the land of the living. It’s speed and power, hitting you with both barrels at once. Until, of course, such time that they decide to yank on the handbrake, slamming your head against the windshield, and bringing it down to a sudden crawl, crawling along with the weight of the bass on your back. And the vocals don’t let up. They just keep coming, in a more aggressive fashion than was heard on Null & Void. The singer isn’t tormented. He’s the tormentor. You might think that based on my preference for the slower parts of Null & Void that I’m not as much of a fan of Naðra’s generally faster style, but that’s not the case. I really like Naðra’s pacing – the music holds together well and is the right accompaniment to the more in-your-face vocals. The band has been together since 2008, and it shows. Solid.

Mannveira has been around a while too, a duo who have been together since 2010. Wait, what? A two-man metal band??? Is that even possible? Actually, yes it is. Von Er Eitur (Hope is a Poison, or Hope is Toxic, according to Google Translate) has a rawer feel than the other two tapes I’ve listened to so far, at least on the title track. But the second song, “Eðjan,” might be the best thing I’ve heard tonight. I can’t quite put my finger on a reason, though stylistically it sounds more “familiar” to my ears, ears not well versed in the the realm of black metal. But musically it’s more reminiscent of an almost sort of industrial thrash, but with a disjointedness that takes it to a different place. Vocally this is more deep growling, but with enough range that you can hear both aggression and despair at the same time, which contributes even more to the jarring, unsettling energy coming from Mannveira. It’s perhaps more approachable for the black metal neophyte, and pretty damn good.

That brings us to Carpe Noctem who, originally founded in 2005, may be the grand-daddies of this group of metallers. And this four-song EP is also a bit different in that it’s a re-release, having originally come out back in 2009. And man, let me tell you – I’m glad someone dusted this bad boy off and put it out again. Because it’s awesome. Right form the opening track “Vargsfæðing” this thing flat out shreds, coming at you like an 18-wheeler full of aviation fuel with no brakes. The guitars are red hot and the drums machine gun fast, and it doesn’t let up. Musically Carpe Noctem’s songs seem to have the most traditional metal “structure” – there’s a real flow to their stuff that leads to a more enjoyable listening experience to me. I could listen to more of their music in one session, I suspect, because it doesn’t hit me with the same angst-ridden mental roller coaster that blasts through my brain with a lot of other black metal. bands. Maybe that doesn’t appeal to the purist. I don’t know. I’m just a guy who basically hasn’t left his house in four days. But Carpe Noctem brings it, relying more on speed and technical expertise than simple, massive weight. If you have any doubts that their metal is true, put on “Skálholtsbrenna” and hear the error of your ways.

Things are looking pretty good for Vánagandr. A number of their releases are already sold out, but don’t fret – the label tells me they’re 100% about the music and not looking to create collectible/fetish items, but tapes that real people listen to, and they don’t want to see their releases become expensive “rarities”. If there’s demand, they’ll put out more! They’ve got a new tape from another Icelandic band Misþyrming coming out shortly and more stuff in the works for 2015. I’ll be making a point of looking out for some of their bands when I’m back in Iceland for Airwaves in November, and hopefully will come home with another pocket full of tapes. As for you, my friend, hell, check ’em out on Facebook or their WEBSITE and order direct from the label. Support the little guy out there getting it done.

Basement Apartment – “Basement Apartment” (2014)

There isn’t much cooler than getting records in the mail, other than maybe getting unexpected records in the mail (OK… the arrival of paychecks is also pretty cool…). That happened to me the other day when my buddy Andy sent me the latest release by some lo-fi shoegazers up there from his neck of the woods in Minnesota, which is how I find myself spinning a translucent green vinyl copy of the relatively new (October 2014) Basement Apartment this afternoon. Thanks Andy! I owe you an Opal at Airwaves this year.

So what we’ve got here is sorta poppy, sorta trippy… sorta lo-fi, but richly textured (I’m not sure how that’s possible, but it is!). The interplay between the male and female vocals reminds me more than a little of a cleaned up, more polished version of The Vaselines, though much more soothing than the Scottish duo. Their dreamy sound reaches its pinnacle half way through the first side of Basement Apartment with “I’ll Hold the C,” a song that could bring you down from the angriest of moods and put you in a much calmer place over the course of four minutes or so. But that’s not to say it’s all chill-out music that will put you in a daze. You need look no further than the very next track, “Starz,” to get a much more uptempo number, though one that sure retains a certain 60s psychedelic sensibility, filling up the space with some groovy jams.

Don’t be fooled by this album being self-titled – Basement Apartment have been around for over a decade, and it shows. The sound is one of a musically mature band in which everyone knows what part they play and no one sounds as if they’re straining to be heard over the others. Just listen to side B’s “Shooting Star” – everyone has room to maneuver here; sometimes it’s the guitar, other times the vocals, but during the transitions it’s the drums. Everyone gets their chance in these rich soundscapes.

Basement Apartment definitely gets my recommendation.


D Diggler – “Atomic Dancefloor” and “日本語版” (2001)

D Diggler is the nom-de-techno of German producer and beat-maker Andreas Mügge. I have to admit the name “D Diggler” is what first got me to stop and take a look at these records the other day, being as it is an homage to the fictional porn star Dirk Diggler. Thankfully I had my trusty phone with me, and a quick internet search revealed Diggler to be some good European techno, so into the pile of used treasures it went.

Both these records came out in 2001. Atomic Dancefloor is a full-length double LP – eight songs spread over four sides of vinyl, the way good techno should be. I got into it right away. This is definitely dance music, with good beats that are quick without being so fast that you’ll pass out from exhaustion before one side is done. I’ve heard Diggler’s style described as trance, and I can hear elements of that here – the music is pretty steady, not playing to the slow builds and eventual frenetic breaks that seem to be the stereotype of EDM in general. That consistency does give it a trance-like feel, despite the fact that the tempo is perhaps a bit quick for traditional trance.

Mügge’s father was a jazz musician, and at a very young age the future Diggler went to his father’s shows and even began performing with his band at the ripe old age of 10. So he certainly has music in his DNA, even if his path veered off from that of his father. That being said, I can feel a certain jazz-esque vibe to this type of trance EDM, perhaps slightly more so on the four-song EP 日本語版, which seems to rely a little more on keyboard sounds than does it’s full length brother.

This is definitely the kind of EDM I prefer, with more consistent beats and pacing. These were a couple of great used pick-ups (the vinyl was pristine on both as well), and I’ll have to add D Diggler to my list of bands to be on the lookout for when I’m crate digging.

Richard Termini Project – “Dangerous Games” (1983)

I won’t lie. The cover caught my attention on this one. Because there’s nothing cuter than a baby playing with pistols.

I figured it was going to be some kind of punk or metal record, but it’s pretty far from that. Dangerous Games is pure, unadulterated 80s (1983) synth pop. It’s like Blondie meets Lou Champagne System, at least on the songs featuring Vicki Zollo on the microphone. This is classic early synth music – sometimes weird (“Bensonhurst”), sometimes sterile (“Television Generation”), sometimes poppy as hell (“Come To Me”). Pretty much any song on here would be at home in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

Richard Termini might be best known for his work with Patti Smyth and Cyndi Lauper. In fact, I thought there was some odd mistake when I realized the inner sleeve holding the record was actually for Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, but now I’m not so sure. Termini played synths on that album (his name’s right here on the sleeve!), and both records came out in 1983. Coincidence that my copy just happens to have an inner sleeve for a Cyndi Lauper album that Termini just happened to play on? I don’t know.

But back to Dangerous Games. This is a pretty cool record if you’re down with that early 80s sort of very deliberate synthesizers – playing as either short, distinct, sharp notes or very long held notes, sounding more like an electronic machine than an instrument. Side B does kick it up a notch and it feels like there’s more guitar work and traditional song structure on songs like “Modern Science.” Termini is at his best when he has Zollo along for the ride – she’s got that classic, urgent pop style of voice that fits perfectly with the sometimes almost sterile sound of the synths, like she’s trapped inside the music and desperately trying to get out.

Dangerous Games is certainly a bit dated, and perhaps a little uneven, but I chalk that up as much to the experimental nature of what Termini is doing as opposed to something else. His talent is obvious. If you’re down with the whole 80s synth scene, it’s definitely worth a listen.

UPDATE (Feb. 19, 2015) -> So I got an email today… from Richard Termini! Which is, of course, incredibly cool. Richard also let me in on a little something that puts Dangerous Games into perspective – while the album came out in 1983, some of it was actually stuff Termini wrote in the 1970s. So while it sort of sounded a bit retro, even taking into account it was from 1983, really it was probably ahead of its time. And the guitar player on the record was John Campos, later of Fallout… who were produced by who else but Richard Termini!