Börn – “Börn” 7″ (2015)

Börn just completed a month-long U.S. and I was bummed that a work trip caused me to miss their Seattle show. I enjoyed both the cassette they released under their old name Norn as well as their 2014 self-titled LP. I made a point of going to see them at Iceland Airwaves last year, catching their show at Húrra that kicked off the festival and where they played a hard, edgy set to a surprisingly large crowed for so early on a Wednesday night, coming away even more impressed.

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

Not only was I disappointed about not being able to see them live again, but to add insult to injury Börn brought copies of their brand new four-song 7″ to sell at their shows. I didn’t want to miss out on getting one of these, and fortunately my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records were more than happy to make sure to put aside a copy for me when they took delivery of their store copies. And yesterday what did I find waiting for me in my mailbox? The new 7″, along with a pair of CDs I’d ordered. These are the things that make a record collector’s day. As I understand it the record came in various colors… mine is sort of a bluish-gray. I saw a picture of a light green one on the band’s Facebook page, but I’m not sure how many different versions there are. Thank God I’m not a completist.

I was struck immediately by the first track, “Engan Skal Hungra,” a very post-punk sounding number with a low, driving rhythm, a simple and very effective guitar that gives shape to the song, and of course Alexandra’s powerful, emotional, angst-ridden singing. If there’s such a thing as post-post-punk, this is it. “Einskis Virði” is the most jarring song on the record, with its doomish low end, repetitive bursts of high end guitar, and desperate vocals, all combining to stop you dead in your tracks and involuntarily ball your hands up into fists. The EP closes out with another purely post-punk number, “Niðurvald.” This is where Anna’s guitar truly shines, working more like a musical paintbrush than an exclamation point, creating an almost constant swath of sound over the top of the bass and drums. She’s so good on this track that I actually had to make a point of going back to listen to it again because the first time I was so focused on her playing that Alexadra’s vocals sort of moved into the background and became more like a fourth instrument and I needed the second time through to hear her. This isn’t a mixing problem – the vocals are right there to be heard. This is just some great guitar playing that distracted me from the other elements.

I’m impressed with the overall mix on this record. All four performers have their space and can be clearly heard (I wasn’t so focused on the guitar on “Niðurvald” because of the mix, but because it was so damn good!). Júlíana’s bass and Fannar’s drums are every bit as critical as the guitar and vocals. But don’t take my word for it; you can check out all four songs for free HERE. Börn’s sound is continuing to develop and mature, and I’m looking forward to seeing (and hearing) more from them in the future. They’re not officially confirmed yet for Airwaves 2015, but I suspect they’ll be playing a bunch of shows again this year and I’ll be sure to search them out.

Ham Sandwich – “Carry the Meek” (2008)

I came across this vinyl copy of Ham Sandwich’s 2008 debut LP Carry the Meek at, of all places, Tower Records in Dublin. I was certainly surprised to find a Tower Records there… but slightly disappointed by the small size of their “Irish Vinyl” section (though, to be fair, the “Irish CDs” section was quite large). Ham Sandwich looked like one of the more interesting bands in that bin, and since I was without any internet access most of my purchases were, out of necessity, shots in the dark. The band had a certain 90s quality to their look and a girl with fangs on the jacket, plus the vinyl was a numbered limited edition of 300, so why not.

I’m not sure where to go with Carry the Meek. Reviews from the time it came out were somewhat mixed, including at least one particularly snarky and brutal one on entertainment.ie. I don’t mind cracking wise from time to time, but I try to make a point of not trashing albums, and not criticizing them in witty ways, which smacks of trying to make yourself look smart at the expense of someone else. In the interest of full disclosure, early in the lifespan of Life in the Vinyl Lane I wrote and posted two or three such reviews, but I came to realize that I was being pretty douchey and took them down. Feel free to be critical. Just be respectful. People work hard on these albums, certainly a lot harder than you did in writing the review.

Anyway… musically Carry the Meek has that sort of 1990s indie sound to it even though it came out a decade later. It’s somewhat low key, though at times the sound can get fuller and richer. The real defining element of Ham Sandwich’s sound, however, at least on Carry the Meek, is the sonic relationship between the male and female vocalists, Podge McNamee and Niamh Ferrell. Truth be told I have a hard time with this combo. It’s sort of like Ian Curtis and Frances McKee teaming up, and their voices never quite mesh for me. Both are good on their own, particularly Ferrell, who is in fact excellent in her solo segments, but together I just never come away feeling like it all fit. That being said, a lot of people love how this pair sounds together, and McNamee has since moved on and been replaced by another male voice so I’d be curious to see how Ham Sandwich sounds today – they’ve sort of renamed themselves Hamsandwich, and their newest album Stories from the Surface just came out last month. There’s enough to like on Carry the Meek to warrant at least giving Stories from the Surface a listen.

Nothing Is Over – “Negative Fucking Energy” 7″ (2009)

I’m not sure how this 2009 record by Philadelphia’s own Nothing Is Over ended up on the “local” section of a music store in Ireland. Probably my bad for not looking at the inner sleeve. Not that I have anything against bands from Philly, mind you; but I was trying to just pick up Irish releases… but such is life.

Nothing Is Over is in-yo-face grindcore. Ten aggressive songs crammed into one little 7″ package. It’s brutal. It’s aggro. It has song titles like “Ruthless Rise to Power” and “Made for Hostility,” but it also has “Sometimes You Eat the Weed, and Sometimes the Weed Eats You,” so go figure. It all comes at you full speed, here one minute and gone the next, a wall of guitars and shouting and pounded drums. I give my personal thumbs up to “Clout” which seemed to break away from the pack a bit, and “Ruthless Rise to Power” is also pretty bad-ass.

Knxwledge – “Klouds” (2010)

One of the more interesting record shops we visited on our recent trip to Ireland was All City. I’ve been to record stores that serve beer; I’ve even been to record stores that sell breakfast. But I’ve never been to one that has more space devoted to the sale of spray paint than it does records.

All City is a combination label, record store, and urban art supply emporium. Musically the selection is heavily weighted towards various types of electronic and beat centered music – a smattering of hip hop, but more geared towards beats, house, and the like. While the overall selection was somewhat small, this was the first store I’ve been to with such a strong concentration (and selection) of this kind of music, so it was fun to flip through the boxes and see so much different stuff. I only wish I’d had internet access so I could have looked up some of these artists – I might have walked out with more records.

The guy working put Klouds into my hand – they’d just gotten a shipment of new copies in, what I believe to be a re-pressing of Knxwledge’s first LP release from 2010. I wasn’t familiar with him but figured I’d give it a shot. It’s a very interesting record – 15 electronic tracks that feel in some ways more like sketches than complete songs, most likely due to Knowledge’s disconcerting way of abruptly ending each one. No fadeouts, no bringing down the tempo and thinning out the sound to bring it to a close. The beats just stop. (Silence). Then the next song kicks in full steam ahead. Absolutely not what I’m used to from my electronic music.

Musically Knxwledge has deep influences. You can hear elements of jazz, soul, 80s style synths, hip hop… and everything in between. The start/stop nature and relatively short runtimes of the songs makes this a more challenging experience than a lot of electronica records, but it also snaps you back to attention and prevents you from sort of zoning out to the music. It’s certainly an interesting sound collage by this well-known beat-maker, though some of it feels a little incomplete, like it’s the middle of a song and not the whole thing. That’s probably by design… though I’d be very interested to hear some remixes of Klouds, because there are some tremendous parts to this record.

Perfect Pussy – “(I)” b/w “Bells” 7″ (2014)

I couldn’t figure out why a record store in Glaway, Ireland had so many copies of the recently released Perfect Pussy 7″ (I). The band doesn’t have any obvious connections to the country, and this was a fairly limited pressing of only 500 copies. It turns out, though, that the label that released it, Art For Blind, is Irish… so I guess it makes sense in a way.

Perfect Pussy are a punk band out of Syracuse, New York, and they’ve been receiving a fair amount of attention lately. The A side of this 7″ is the song “I” that originally appeared on their 2013 album “I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling,” a fast, raw number defined by Meredith Grave’s lo-fi, attacking vocal style. The flip side is a live version of “Bells” recorded in 2013 for WNYU, a somewhat distorted effort that still does a decent job in capturing the band’s rough, edgy sound.

Both songs are super short – there’s only three-and-a-half minutes of music on this puppy, so the appeal is probably more for the die-hard fan. That being said, I liked what I heard, and liked it enough that I’ll probably check out at least a few more Perfect Pussy tunes online.