The Magnetics – “A Historical Glimpse of the Future” (1981)

I’ve known of this album for a while, but a recent visit to Reykjavik Record Shop was the first time I’d been able to put my hands on one. Within 10 seconds of Reynir dropping the needle of the store’s stereo onto it I knew it was walking out the door with me.

The Magnetics were Jakob Magnússon (aka Jack Magnet) and Alan Howarth, an intriguing international duo. Keyboard player Magnússon was an Icelander born in Denmark who already had an impressive jazz resume, while Howarth was making a name for himself as a Hollywood composer – in 1981, the same year that A Historical Glimpse of the Future was released, he also was involved in the soundtracks for two hit John Carpenter movies, Escape from New York and Halloween II. And both have been quite successful in their post-Magentics careers, Howarth with more soundtrack work and Magnússon with various jazz outfits and Iceland’s original party band Stuðmenn as well as work in film and as a judge on Iceland’s Got Talent.

The cover of A Historical Glimpse of the Future reminds me more than a little of that of Kraftwerk’s 1973 Ralf & Florian, which may or may not be a coincidence though I’m sure given The Magnetics’ style that they were influenced at least somewhat by the Germans. And man, this is some strange stuff right out of the gate with a 1980s synth cover of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. (♠) Throughout the album you can hear the soundscapes an entire generation came to associate with the 1980s films scored by Howarth, a bit dark and moody while also still being a bit plinky. I’m particularly fond of “Shanghai Stripper”, though Reynir was partial to the trippy “Súkkulaðisjúkur”, a song that he explained to us as being about two types of candy that were very popular in Iceland at the time and that includes some hyper-modulated vocals that make it sound like it’s from both the past and the future simultaneously. And let’s not forget the old-timey cabaret-styled “I’m Getting Married Today”, a truly bizarre piece that doesn’t seem to fit at all… and somehow by not fitting actually fits perfectly, which is the real story of A Historical Glimpse of the Future.

(♠) Which was a #1 hit single in 1961 by the doo-wop band The Tokens.

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