Menn – “Reisn” (1986)

I went to my “To Listen To” shelf on Sunday to pull out something to spin and write about for the blog, only to be greeted with noting more than a Lucky Records hat staring at me from the cube and not a record to be seen. This was the first time in a long time that I didn’t have a backlog of vinyl. It actually confused me for a moment. Huh. I’ve got some stuff on order and am anxiously awaiting the new releases by Fufanu and Singapore Sling, but until those arrive I may need to root around on my shelves for stuff that somehow escaped the blog’s gaze.

I started by going through my shelves of Icelandic releases (♠), and the first one I came across that hadn’t been featured on Life in the Vinyl Lane before was the one and only release from the band Menn, 1986s Reisn. I actually mentioned it in an October 2012 post, noting that it was one of the records I’d picked up while at Airwaves, but either I never listened to it or wasn’t intrigued enough to write about it.

I did some research into Menn but came up mostly blank. The band appears to have consisted of Valdimar Flygenring and Ágúst Karlsson. Karlsson had played guitar on Með Nöktum‘s release Skemmtun the year prior to Reisn, but otherwise the trail is moderately cold – it looks like both have done some other work, but it was hard for me to clearly connect the dots. Even Dr. Gunni’s seminal history of Icelandic music Stuð vors lands only mentions Menn in passing, so I’m kind of in the dark.

Musically Reisn is a bit all over the place. It’s “rock” in the broadest sense, with a touch of rockabilly and some 80s style flourishes. The most intriguing (and excellent) piece is the side A closer, “Kona,” a song that utilizes elements of the theme songs to a pair of spies/private eyes, James Bond and Peter Gunn, adding in some audio samples for good measure. It’s a significant departure from the first three songs on side A and ushers in a more experimental vibe that carriers over to the B side. “Maðurinn” could be a lost Þeyr track, with crazy bird chirping acting as one of the instruments, while the narrator on the closing track “Snigill” gives things a sort of dystopian sci-fi feel (♣).

A handful of copies of Reisn sold on Discogs between 2010 and 2013, all in the $40-50 range. It looks to be legitimately scarce, and I’m not sure if it ever came out on CD. I couldn’t find any of the songs posted online, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it – Reisn feels like something from earlier in the 1980s during the more avant garde period when new wave almost took a bizarro left turn into icy German techno weirdness. The last five tracks are outstanding, so if you can find it, get it.

(♠) Most of my records are organized by genre, with separate sections for 7″, 10″, and 12″ singles as well. The one exception to this is that all albums recorded by Icelandic bands and anything recorded live in Iceland is in its own, separate set of shelves, regardless of genre. Because, well, I’m crazy.

(♣) Of course, he’s speaking in Icelandic, so he could just be reading his grocery list for all I know.

Saint Vitus – “Heavier Than Thou” (1991)

Saint Vitus sweat out a singular organic psychedelic treatment of brooding, heavy rock. This here is the ultimate in heavy – uncut by speed, progressivisms or harmony.
— Joe Carducci in Rock and the Pop Narcotic (p. 360 of the 2005 3rd edition)

I probably first heard of Saint Vitus via Joe Carducci’s seminal musical manifesto Rock and the Pop Narcotic. They wallowed in sufficient obscurity that a metal loving teenager in Seattle managed to never encounter them throughout what is arguably their peak period from the mid to late 1980s because back then if you weren’t on the radio or MTV or in someone’s older brother’s record collection chances are a lot of people never heard of you. I’m pretty sure I would have been down with Saint Vitus had any of their albums found their way to my bedroom stereo.

Carducci’s right in his assessment of the band’s heaviness – their music brings a weight without being terribly concerned about speed. Saint Vitus were rebelling against both major trends in metal during that time, the excesses of glam and the speed-at-all-cost rise of thrash. Even their “faster” tracks like “Look Behind You” bring more mass than velocity to the party. (♠)

Heavier Than Thou is a 14 track compilation comprised of material from Saint Vitus’ first four albums, all originally released on SST between 1984 and 1988. The songs are heavy and infused with a healthy dose of 70s arena rock, like the solid metal core of planets Thin Lizzy or KISS, a dense ball of bubbling and roiling liquid metal that uses it’s massive gravity to slow down everything around it. The comparisons to Black Sabbath are both obvious and apt, but with Saint Vitus as a more stripped down cousin to their better known counterparts. They’re a band that falls outside of time, coming along too late to reap the popularity of their forefathers, yet too early to get the benefits that would be laid out for their spawn.

Dave Chandler’s guitar is the one thing that breaks free from the sonic oppression, creating occasional electrical storms that crackle like St. Elmo’s fire above the musical layer. Notable examples are “Thirsty and Miserable” and “Dying Inside,” but Chandler’s influence is felt throughout Heavier Than Thou, giving the songs different shapes and textures.

I’m glad I came across this copy of Heavier Than Thou. As a metal fan I appreciate the musical discipline required to play this heavy and methodically, resisting the urge to break out of the structure and start going wild. Even Chandler’s forays feel very planned and thought out, like an architectural flourish on an otherwise conservative building. Saint Vitus bring an intentionality to their work and style that is often lacking in other bands.

(♠) Though the guitar solos in “Thirsty and Miserable” seriously shred.

Etat Brut – “Mutations Et Prothèses” (1981 / 2012)

Etat Brut were a Belgian noise duo comprised of Phillippe x and Philippe X who were active in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The online info on the group is sparse, which only heightens the otherworldly feel of their 1981 release Mutations Et Prothèses.

This album was only available on cassette for around 30 years until Sub Rosa put out CD and vinyl versions back in 2012. It appears the vinyl was limited to 500 copies, 250 in black and 250 in clear green, and given the very distinct sub-niche of industrial noise Etat Brut produced, that was probably an ample run.

Mutations Et Prothèses brings a legitimate industrial sonic palette to the table, with much of the percussion sounding like assorted types of metal, glass, and plastic being struck, with just an underlying bass or drum machine track holding everything together. The vocals, such as they are, are heavily distorted and often slowed down and sometimes looped, giving the whole thing a haunting and disjointed emotional feel. If it were the soundtrack to a movie, there would be lots of quick cuts and seemingly disconnected and bizarre images, something your mind simply can’t wrap itself around no matter how hard you try.

The last few years have seen my fascination with fringe music increase. I’m interested in the outliers, the people making sounds that are so foreign to what is happening in the general world of popular or mainstream music that they almost active defy being labelled as “music”. Much of it is not enjoyable to listen to, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t often compelling and horizon-opening. You can hear a bit for yourself below, but be warned – much like there are thing in life you can’t “un-see”, so too are there things you can’t “un-hear”, and hearing this may just change the wiring in your brain ever so slightly…

The Olympic Sideburns – “The Olympic Sideburns” (1985)

An album jacket like this just calls out to you to pull it out of the “Miscellaneous O” section for a harder look. And if you’re like me, when you see the winged and two-headed dinosaurs on the back you’ll probably just go ahead and buy it because you have to hear what this is al about.

The Olympic Sideburns hailed from Australia and played a rockabilly-infused style of garage rock. They’re often referred to online as shockabilly, whatever the hell that may or may not mean, but it’s basic, raw and lo-fi. To my ears there are influences here of some other more well known Aussie rockers, specifically Radio Birdman and The Birthday Party. But their garage roots run deep, nowhere more noticeably so than their cover of Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel,” with the Sideburns’ version being quite reminiscent of the early cover done by OG garage rockers The Sonics in 1965. There are a handful of other covers on The Olympic Sideburns as well, including Love’s “7 & 7 Is”, Paul Kelly’s “Speedway”, and “Red Hot Woman” by The Revelons. Normally that many covers would be a concern since it sort of implies the band doesn’t have enough of its own material to fill up an entire album, but in the case of the Sideburns the quality of their originals is up to par as tunes like “Fire It Up” can stand up against any competition.

The Bombpops – “Fear of Missing Out” (2017)

I’ve been on a major female-vocalist kick lately, and it couldn’t have come at a better time with new releases last year by The Kills and Dream Wife and Warpaint, plus the chance to see some killer shows by bands like Thunderpussy and Hórmónar at Iceland Airwaves. I feel like we’re in a period similar to when Riot Grrrl fired off like a rocket into space a couple of decades back, except this time I think the world is ready for it.

The Bombpops were founded back in 2007 by guitarists and co-vocalists Poli van Dam and Jen Razavi. Over the years they’ve gone through their rhythm section the way that Spinal Tap went through drummers, but they finally found some stability with the additions of bassist Neil Wayne and drummer Josh Lewis and the set line-up allowed them to get into the studio to record their first full-length after a couple of EPs and a 7″ over the last nine years. I came across Fear of Missing Out over in the New Releases section over at Hi-Voltage Records, and I’m glad they gave it such a prominent place because otherwise I probably would have missed this new pop-punk gem.

Man, I don’t want to go too deep into the comparison game. But if you like bands like American Hi-Fi and Blink-182 and L7, then The Bombpops are for you. And yes, I just put L7 in the same sentence as American Hi-Fi and Blink-182 and I’m not going to apologize for it. Why, you ask? Sure, L7 is way heavier than those other bands, but sometimes The Bombpops get heavy too on songs like “Jerk”, and fast with punk bursts like “I Can’t”, when their sheer attitude reminds me of the completely in-your-faceness of L7. And yet there’s still a major pop undercurrent to most of Fear of Missing Out, so yeah, it all kind of fits together, at least it does to my ears.

Fear of Missing Out comes at you like a hundred mile an hour fastball, high and tight. So after you get back up and dust yourself off, you’re going to find yourself coming back for it again and again. At least that’s what happened to me, and it gets better with every listen. Give ’em a listen for yourself over on Bandcamp HERE. I’m partial to “Jerk” and “Marry. Fuck. Kill”, but if you want one of their poppier numbers, give “Capable of Lies” a digital spin.