MAMMÚT – “Ride the Fire” (2020)

Greetings again, dear reader. It’s been a while. In looking back I see this is only my third post in November in what has been a year of sporadic updates. I don’t think the saga that has been 2020 is entirely to blame, thought it has certainly contributed. The ironic thing is I feel like I’ve probably spent more time listening to music this year than I have in a very long time, and maybe ever since I can have it on while I’m working at home. And even though the three trips we had planned for this year all got cancelled, along with the record shopping that would have accompanied them, I’ve continued to buy music at a fairly steady pace. In fact I’m expecting one more shipment from my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Record right before Christmas, chock full of new releases.

So why the slowing of the blog? I don’t know. I started to feel like I was writing the same thing over and over. I’ve heard Henry Rollins describe the end of his music career by saying he basically woke up one morning, realized he had no more lyrics, and knew he’d never write a song again. For me it wasn’t quite that harsh, but there is definitely a feeling of not having much new to say, at least not unless an album is particularly compelling.

It’s a gray, damp morning here in the Seattle area. It’s also Thanksgiving, which is an important day here in the US. But of course COVID had other plans. We’ve only had two people inside our house, besides us, since March, and it’ll be just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner. But we still have so much to be thankful for, even in this crazy year. Neither of us have contracted COVID (as far as we know) and our families and friends are healthy. We’re both still working. We lost a dog, but added a new pup to the household. And even with all this time together in the house, both working from home, we’re still happy to be with each other.

Ride the Fire is the perfect soundtrack for a reflective morning like this one, its sense of wistfulness sandwiched between a light layer of sadness and another of hope. It’s hard to believe this is the same group we saw for the first time back in 2010. Is this really the same band that put out Karkari back in 2008? It’s hard to reconcile but also makes perfect sense. It’s as if you can feel how the members of Mammút have matured over the years, both in becoming more talented musicians but also, just as importantly, adults. The members were young teens when the band started in 2003, meaning they’re probably all in their early 30s now. Some of them have children of their own. There are jobs and bills to pay and responsibilities. Relationships have come and gone. Life happened. And that’s reflected in their music.

Ride the Fire has been getting a lot of play here over the last few weeks, and I suspect it will be getting plenty more. You should definitely go give it a listen yourself at Bandcamp HERE, and maybe pick up a copy on red vinyl while you’re at it.

The Fall – “[Austurbæjarbíó] – Reykjavík Live 1983” (2001 / 2020)

I’m fascinated that this show was recorded, and done so well enough to be released as a live album. I mean, it’s not like in 1983 people were saying, “you know where would be a killer place to do a live album? Reykjavik.” For most of us, at least in the US, about the only thing Reykjavik was known for, if it was known at all, was the 1972 World Chess Championship when Bobby Fischer defeated the Russian Boris Spassky, a feat that actually got him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But here it is, and it sounds pretty damn good, too.

I’m not a big fan of The Fall, though I respect their achievements and music and role. If I’m being 100% honest, what turned me on to this album was the fact it was recorded in Reykjavik. Who was in the audience for this show? The guys from Þeyr? Purrkur Pillnikk? Were the kids from Tappi Tíkarrass there, including their young lead singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir? I feel like there’s a good chance most if not all the who’s who in the first generation Icelandic punk scene may have been there. Does it matter? Maybe kinda sorta, but not really. Except to me and some people in Iceland, probably. And maybe my friend Bryan in Boston.

As I mentioned above, this actually sounds pretty great. Originally released in 2001, this got the Record Store Day treatment in 2020 in a limited 2XLP edition of 1,000 copies. Is it rock, or punk, or post punk? Who cares. Put the genre labels to the side, pour yourself a whiskey, and drop the needle on this sucker.

Junior Brown – “Guit With It” (1993)

Sometimes the opening band at a show is pretty good. Sometimes they’re not. Every now and again, though, you get surprised, and perhaps even fall in love. We saw Hillstomp open for Devil Makes Three and have seen the duo at least a half dozen times since. We saw Maroon 5, before they were a thing, open for Matchbox Twenty and they blew the doors off. And then there was Cowboy Mouth show at Seattle’s coolest little venue Neumos, when onto the stage walks a guy in slacks, a blazer, and a cowboy hat, who proceeds to put his combo guitar and lap steel guitar onto a stand and sits on a chair. Accompanying him are a bass player and a drummer who only has one snare drum. By the end of the first song Junior Brown had the crowd eating out of his hand with his talent and wit and humor.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to finally track down on of Junior Brown’s records, though to be fair it looks like 1993s Guit With It is the only full-length to ever make it onto wax. And man, this is as good as I remember. I have to confess I’m particularly attracted to his funnier songs. These aren’t overtly comedic in the style of Weird Al, but more a bit sly, and in some cases it isn’t the words themselves but the way Junior Brown drawls them. In “Highway Patrol” the narrator tells us but I’ll do my best to keep you drivin’ slow – I’m just doin’ my job / I’m on the highway patrol. The cops show up in “Party Lights” too – But there’s another kind of party lights / That I can’t stand to see / ‘Cause there’s a man in a patrol car / And he don’t want to party with me. Brown reaches his apex on his song about any ex aptly titled “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” – We’ll have to say hello maybe some other time instead / ‘Cause you’re wanted by the po-lice / And my wife thinks you’re dead. But there’s some sweetness here, such as the duet with Tanya Rae Brown “So Close Yet So Far Away” and numbers like “Names And Addresses”. And that guitar sound… oh so sweet.

If you ever get a chance, give ol’ Junior a listen. And watch out for those red and white party lights, kids…