Þeyr – “Mjötviður Mær” (1981)

Þeyr (a.k.a. “Theyr” in English) were an Icelandic New Wave/Punk band formed in the late 1970s. Between 1980 and 1983 they released three LPs and four EPs on their way to becoming one of the most influential bands in the Icelandic popular music scene. Even after the band’s demise members continued to hold sway, with Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson and Sigtryggur Baldursson becoming a part of KUKL, alongside its more famous female lead singer, Björk (and the less widely known but brilliant Einar Orn, currently with Ghostigital, one of the more intense live bands you’ll ever see). Sigtryggur was later a member of The Sugarcubes, further cementing his place in Icelandic popular music history.

OK, so why the hell should you care about this album by an Icelandic band you’ve probably never heard of, that had limited international distribution, and is sung mostly in Icelandic? Well, in large part because you can hear the development of some of the music that later evolved into KUKL, The Sugarcubes, and Björk’s solo projects. Plus it’s pretty cool.

Mjötviður Mær (1981) was the band’s second LP, released late in the same year that also saw the creation of their EP Iður til Fóta. Clocking in at just over 32 minutes, it’s 12 songs are… well, let’s just say they’re eccentric. Sort of like David Bowie, with a backing band on speed. Or an Icelandic version of Devo with vocals by a synthesized robot. But better (as if that doesn’t sound good enough). Some tracks sound like mash-ups of multiple different songs, smashed together in a way that oddly works. The vocals become almost like another instrument in the mix (especially if you don’t speak Icelandic…), and actually a pretty good one at that.

There are some straight-forward sounding New Wave tracks here, notably “Rudolf” and “Never Suck”. Others like “Það er Nóg” are more bizarre, with lots of synth and modulated vocals. There are also some disturbing elements as well. The band was known to sometimes perform in Nazi garb, and they included a clip of a speech by Adolf Hitler in the track “Rudolf”, causing many to misunderstand the message of the song, which is actually anti-fascist (Rudolf is your shade, your double / He knows your thoughts, he knows your troubles / You are invited / To share his fate / To stand united in your common hate). If I were to pick a favorite track, I’d probably go with either “Úlfur” or “Hva-Than”, both of which are somewhat disjointed, but have beats that seem to fit the era.

The album was never re-released, so it’s not available on CD or through iTunes. However, nine of the tracks are on the band’s 2001 compilation Mjötviður til Fóta, with “2999”, “Never Suck”, and “Hva-Than” failing to make the cut and being replaced by three tracks from the Iður til Fóta EP. Which is too bad, because the songs excluded were really solid.

Don’t let the odd musical stylings keep you away. There’s a lot of great stuff on Mjötviður Mær if you go into it with an open mind. And are not disturbed by the male full-frontal nudity on the cover. Or the male rear nudity on the reverse. The music is what’s important. Not the naughty bits.