Ornamental – “No Pain” (1987)

Gee, it’s been maybe six weeks since I’ve written about some type of Einar Örn Benediktsson project and I feel like I’m going through withdrawal. OK, and that’s not even entirely true because I did post about the Rokk í Reykjavík DVD recently, and he’s featured there with his punk band Purrkur Pillnikk. What can I say? The man’s musical resume runs deep and he has been involved in so many Icelandic projects it’s almost harder to find something he hasn’t worked on. Having a Sugarcubes level of success certainly helps… and so does having your own label so you can put out what you want.

So thanks to the amazing interwebs I tracked down another obscure record Einar Örn worked on in conjunction with collaborator Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson (Grindverk, Frostbite, H3ÖH), this one a 12″ called No Pain by the group calling itself Ornamental. Joining them on the project were Rose McDowell (Strawberry Switchblade) and Dave Ball (Soft Cell), making for an eclectic mix of musicians, though all of who had a reputation for being into stuff outside the mainstream.

No Pain certainly fits that description, though there are a lot of familiar sounds in this blend of new wave and industrial (industrial adult contemporary… light industrial… pop industrial…?). The beats are fast new wave… but with enough quick drum machine beats and odd metallic clanks to remind me a bit of Cabaret Voltaire. The horns also scream new wave, as does the funky bass that almost makes me think of Oingo Boingo. McDowell’s vocals are very high and modulated, reminiscent of the Bangles, and Einar’s unique brand of speaking/singing functions almost like a weird hip hop interlude late in the title track “No Pain,” which is a pretty cool dance track.

“No Pain” takes up all of side A, while the flip side has two other versions of that song (“No Pain #2 (Short Mix)” and “No Pain (Get Ready Mix)”), along with “Le Sacré D’Hiver,” a much more straight forward industrial dance track that excludes McDowell and instead is the realm of the bizarreness of Einar and his crazy horn. The pace is much faster than that of the three versions of “No Pain” and it’s a more chaotic number without the familiar pop music pieces of the title track.

One thing I know for sure – if Einar Örn is involved in something, it’s going to be interesting. And usually pretty damn good too.

Frostbite – “The Second Coming” (1993)

 This is the last stop on my jaunt through the ancillary works of one Einar Örn. I went on a bit of an Einar Örn kick, and with eBay only a click away and a new PayPal account, it didn’t take me long to buy all kinds of stuff. I found H3ÖH’s The Hafler Trio Bootleg and Grindverk’s Gesundheit Von K on vinyl, and Frostbite’s The Second Coming on CD (I didn’t realize until just now when doing some research for this post that it had been released on vinyl… dammit!).

 All three of these projects saw Einar Örn working with fellow Icelander Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, and The Second Coming actually provided the source material for the two remixes that comprise The Hafler Trio Bootleg. See how it all fits together? That’s one thing about the Icelandic music scene – it’s pretty damn small, and with most of the country living in and around Reykjavik, most of the musicians are in close proximity to one another, which makes it easy to work together.

Released in 1993, The Second Coming is an intriguing piece of electronica… I’d probably describe it as new age electronic, though Holly votes for sci-fi electronic. But it’s not purely music and sound – Einar’s funky lyrics and vocals weave in and out of the songs.

It happened one night
Not long ago

That miss happy
went out to make
everybody happy.
Well, it was her profession.
It was a big job too.
But a drink too many
made her inevitably dead drunk.
Now miss happy was only sorrow.
— “Sorrow”

Katie Jane Garside contributes female vocals to three of the tracks, including my favorite “Loose My Mind,” which is perhaps coincidentally one of the two songs remixed on The Hafler Trio Bootleg. She actually sounds a lot like a young Björk and provides a good counter to Einar’s half singing/half rap.

“Only The Light” is the weirdest song on the album, one I can’t really figure out if I like or not. It has those signature horn sounds that seem to appear in so many of Einar’s projects, but this isn’t a “song.” This is a handful of instruments playing… but they aren’t playing the same thing at all. And on top of it all are some gothic sounding Einar vocals, making this sound more like some kind of religious rite on acid. Or something from Spinal Tap. I’m not sure which.

I hear seeds of future Einar works here. Songs like “Depressed” and “Loose My Mind” remind me more than a little bit of Ghostigital, though Einar’s later projects moved into a much harder, aggressive, industrial realm. There’s a lot to like here, though it is maybe a bit “softer” than I was hoping for – I like my Einar angry and confused and a bit crazy, and while that’s here lyrically I would have liked a bit of a heavier sound and in-your-face vocals. Other than “Only The Light,” however, it’s still a solid album to listen to all the way through, and it’s pretty readily available on eBay so check it out.