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.

Mr. Bungle – “California” (1999 / 2014)

I had exactly zero experience with Mr. Bungle prior to sitting down to play this record. My buddy Andy sent it to me, which was a pleasant surprise, and I decided to go into it cold without reading anything about the band or album in advance.

My version is the Music On Vinyl re-release from 2014. First things first – as always, MOV puts out a well-packaged product. Oddly, though, my copy seems to have some kind of issue during the first minute of the side A opener “Sweet Charity” in which the left speaker goes in and out. Cleaned my stylus, brushed the record again… same deal. That being said, Andy has the same version and his played clean, so could be something with my copy or possibly something that got into a couple of grooves. I usually don’t do a full clean of new vinyl, but may need to get this one into the Spin Clean to see.

As for the music, well, what can I say? Mr. Bungle incorporates elements of… well… EVERYTHING in California. Crooning? Check. Easy listening? Check. Surf… psych… Persian? Check check check. It’s both all-over-the-place and cohesive at the same time, maintaining a consistency by its commitment to being inconsistent.

I haven’t spent much time listening to some of the weirder rock performers like Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Butthole Surfers (Locust Abortion Technician still scares me a little). Most of my weirdness has been in the electronic and more purely avant garde side. I like what Mr. Bungle are doing here, though – the musicianship is excellent, as is the overall commitment to getting each style right, which makes for a pleasing listening experience.

Shitkid – “Duo Limbo​ / ​Mellan Himmel å Helvete” (2020)

Shitkid is Åsa Söderqvist and Lina Molarin Ericsson. On their latest effort the pair overlay indie pop sensibility onto a hard rock and doom metal base, something that doesn’t feel like it should work but they pull it off. From the heavy rhythm section of “Get Jealous” and “Feels Like the Movies” to the straight-forward hard rock of “Eagles Over America”, it’s the pop-punkiness of the vocals that provides the sense of continuity. They can slow it down a bit too, when they choose, moving into shoegaze territory on tracks like “Anger MGMT”. Interestingly the B side is comprised of the exact same songs as the A side, the difference being that they are sung in the band’s native Swedish instead of English.

You can listen to Duo Limbo​ / ​Mellan Himmel å Helvete on Bandcamp HERE, and it’s definitely worth the time to check out.

Grísalappalísa – “Týnda Rásin” (2019)

After nearly a decade together Grísalappalísa are calling it quits, and they’re going out in style with one final album, Týnda Rásin, the vinyl pressing including a 20-page full-sized color booklet of photos and lyrics. But despite the prettiness of the packaging, the album itself came from a dark place. Per the band:

This album is about a frequency that no one tunes into, a channel virtually hidden from our perception and whose broadcasts reach only a deep, dark void. It is an echo chamber, a path you find yourself in in the darker times of life and swallows you, ironically, by your own doing. For us, this channel represents depression, anxiety and isolation, to be at a crossroads with yourself and on the margins of society. It’s about experiencing yourself as a failure, an exposure of yourself and the sudden realisation that you won’t be the rockstar that the 16-year-old you wanted to be.

I can’t speak to Týnda Rásin’s lyrical message since the vocals are in Icelandic, but the music and the vocal tone support this view. It’s an album of varying styles, not in that there is a country song followed by something hip hop, but more within the general indie rock space that Grísalappalísa exists in (♠). Týnda Rásin lacks a sonic cohesiveness. But that’s not intended as an insult, simply an observation. You’ve got the punkish “Kvæðaþjófurinn” (my favorite track) followed by a more spoken-word-styled number in “Keyri Heim Á Þorláksmessu”, all of it tied together by and underlying angst, a sense of anomie. And they do stretch the limits, especially on the experimental, free-jazz-like “Taugaáfall Í Bónus” with its vocal anxiety mirrored by the emotional and unstructured piano.

You can give it a listen for yourself HERE. I don’t see the vinyl listed on Bandcamp right now, but this came out on the Reykjavik Record Shop imprint, so I’m sure you can contact the shop directly if you want to get your hands on a physical copy.

(♠) OK, with the possible exception of the very country “Undir Sterku Flúorljósi” that is…

GRÓA – “GRÓA” (2018)

I don’t usually write about CD-only releases. After all, the blog is called Life in the Vinyl Lane, and my backlog of vinyl is more than adequate to allow me to post once a day if I wanted to. But let’s be real – putting out your album on vinyl is expensive, even if it’s a 7″, and most stuff hits the streets either digitally or on CD. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Every now and again, though, I run across a CD that blows me away, and when that happens I feel compelled to tell you all about it.

The new seven-song CD by GRÓA is one of those albums.

I got this from my buddy Gestur over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, who I give carte blanche to add any CDs to my vinyl orders that he thinks I might like. And most of them I do like. Occasionally though I find one that I love. And that’s why I’m here writing about GRÓA as I sit down to listen to it for the third time in a row.

If you look at the cover of GRÓA you’d be forgiven for assuming this is punk or some kind of extreme metal. But while there is some punk attitude, it’s more indie to my ears. The band is comprised of three young women who are still in high school, none of whom played anything other than piano before forming this band and making it all the way to the finals of Músíktilraunanna, Iceland’s annual battle of the bands. It’s hard to believe they got this good this fast, but I’m sitting here listening to the evidence with my own ears. I generally focus on albums as opposed to singles, but if I was picking a Top Song of 2018 I guarantee you that “Ocean Is Amber” (♠) would make the Top 5 and would be a strong contender for the top spot. The verses undulate and the choruses explode. There’s a hint of funkiness to the rhythm (and if you want to hear them get really funky, check out “Eoeo”) that is a perfect foil to the angsty vocals in the chorus. Other times they’re darker and punkier, most notably on “Fimmta Lagið”.

You can listen to GRÓA and buy a digital copy and their label’s Bandcamp page HERE. I’m not sure about tracking down a copy of the physical CD – that might require a bit more effort.

(♠) As soon as I heard “Ocean Is Amber” I was sure I’d heard it before, but I knew I’d never seen GRÓA perform live. Turns out the song was included on the comp Drullumall #1, which I also highly recommend. It was put out by the same label, so you can check it out at their Bandcamp page as well.