Bara Flokkurinn – “Lizt” (1982)

On our trip to Reykjavik earlier this year I came home with two Bara Flokkurinn records – their 1981 self-titled EP and 1983’s Gas. Apparently I missed their second album, a problem I rectified when we were back in my favorite city again for Airwaves and I completed my Bara Flokkurinn catalog with 1982’s Lizt.

Much like their other two records, Lizt is a classic example of European new wave from back when it was new and fresh. Bara Flokkurinn sing in English, making them very approachable and revealing lyrics that are definitely on the darker side.

When will nations learn,
To relaize when they are lookin’ in mirrors.

As far as they are concerned,
You might be helpful just blowin’ your brains out.
I close my eyes and cry,
I’m just as useful as an unmailed postcard.
— “Wonderful Creation”

So there’s that. Plus there is a song called “Mr. Penis,” which has a repetitive chorus of

But don’t think this is just sad bastard music, because it’s not. This isn’t music designed to bum you out, more like music to listen to at night, when it’s dark outside and you just want to stay in and drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. The song that sticks out the most for me is “Orient Wild,” a track that doesn’t seem to fit with Bara Flokkurinn’s typical sound. It’s more edgy, abrupt, and dark, maybe like Warsaw or the relatively new Danish band Shiny Darkly, though it still holds onto just enough new wave style to not be a total outlier.

Lizt is more like two EPs than one complete LP. Side A is more standard new wave fare, while side B is a bit more aggressive and jarring, and these seem like the more interesting songs on the record. I like side B better – it’s different and feels more creative, not quite as formulaic. This sort of split personality makes this a very enjoyable record since you feel like you’re hearing two different sides of the same band. The overall genre is the same, it’s just that one side is more experimental and interesting. Well worth a listen if you can find the vinyl.

Bara Flokkurinn – “Bara Flokkurinn” (1981) and “Gas” (1983)

Twice my friends at Lucky Records tried to convince me I needed to give Bara Flokkurinn a chance, and twice I shot the band down after only a cursory spin at the store’s listening station. I’m not sure why I decided to pull the trigger and buy a copy of their 1983 LP Gas this time around, but I did. There were probably two contributing factors:

1. I’d already bought a lot of stuff over the course of the last two trips to Iceland, so Bara Flokkurinn was sort of the best of the next tier of artists (in my mind)
2. I didn’t even put it on the turntable to listen to it, so I never gave myself a chance to think about it

The problem with listening to records at the store, at least for me, is I tend to only do quick samples of a handful of tracks… often only on one side. So if the first song on an album doesn’t catch my attention, I may just pull it and put it back. Not ideal, I know. But true. And that may be what kept me from picking up Gas those first two trips, and not spinning it this time is probably why I took it home. And I’m glad I was thinking about Bara Flokkurinn in a more positive way (illogical as the reasoning behind it was), because that prompted me to pull the trigger on the band’s self-titled debut at another used shop… and that purchase sparked a conversation with the store owner that led directly to me finally finding a copy of Northern Lights Playhouse. So regardless of what I thought of these two Bara Flokkurinn albums, I owed them a debt of gratitude.

I have to admit, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Bara Flokkurinn EP (1981), which was the first of the two records to hit my Rega. At six songs and 19 minutes, it’s pretty robust for an EP, and I actually played it twice in a row. Two songs jumped out at me the first time through – “Push”, the closing track on Side A, and “Fog” which holds the same spot on side B (all of Bara Flokkurinn’s songs are in English). “Push” features great synths, echo, and post-punk angst here, while “Fog” is more like some early Joy Division with it’s dark feel, and only has minimal lyrics (I was in a different room the first time it came on, and initially I thought it was an instrumental). On a completely unrelated note, when I first heard the chorus of “Catcher Comin’” I thought they were singing “catch a commie,” probably a subliminal reaction to having watched Clint Eastwood’s Firefox last night.

Gas (1983) completes the bands evolution into a full-fledged new wave outfit, with a much poppier sound overall, though there are still some dark edges in songs like “In the Quit of the Night”. There are also some clunkers like “Watch That Cat”, a problem that didn’t exist on the shorter, more powerful Bara Flokkurinn. The nine songs all tend to be of relatively friendly radio length, with only the 6:13 “Take Good Care of Your Self” falling outside of the three to five minute range, which probably made them a bit more mainstream than some of the tracks on their debut, two of which came in at very punk sub-two minute lengths. Overall Gas is pretty good. There’s a little Oingo Boingo and Devo influence here, but not much that sticks out as unique or particularly noteworthy.

Gas is a decent enough album if you like early 80s new wave (and I do), but for my money Bara Flokkurinn is worth twice the price for half the music. It has a more unique and less polished sound, and the songs don’t sound like they all came out of the same basic playbook. Definitely worth a listen if you can find a copy.