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.

Velvet Villain – “Velvet Villain” (2020)

Velvet Villain are a hard rocking duo from Reykjavik, Iceland featuring Jón Gauti and Jóni Sölku . That’s basically as much as I’ve been able to find about them online. But really, what more do you need?

This seven-song record came out in July in a ridiculously limited pressing of 10 copies. It’s on clear vinyl and the jacket reverse is numbered with a sticker. A monthly later Velvet Villain put out their debut album Dead By Midnight on various streaming services. It doesn’t appear that the two releases are identical, at least not in comparing song titles. Five tracks on both versions, with the vinyl having two that don’t appear on streaming (“12:59” and “Maístjarnan”), while the Spotify’s Dead By Midnight includes three tracks not on the vinyl (“Wicked Love”, “Out of Sight”, and “Here Comes the Rain”).

Stylistically Velvet Villain is somewhere in the intersection of hard rock, post-punk, and metal. There’s a layer of angst in the vocals, given even more weight by the tuned down guitar. For my money I recommend “Life In a Fishbowl” and “I Wanna Know”, the latter being the heaviest thing on the record, slow and sludgy.

Janelle – “Fault Lines” (2016)

Janelle brings some heavy synths to the shoegaze world. Fault Line‘s songs flit about like birds in winter, a bit languid and jerky, not purposely flying from place to place but instead just trying to survive one more cold season. The pacing is subdued, though every inch of the sonic canvas is covered with sound, dense waves moving slowly through the cold air. The pace picks up a bit on “Syncopation”, which is like coming up for a breath before slowly sinking back into the cool embrace of the album’s last two songs. There’s something familiar about Fault Lines, but I just can’t place it. But no matter. The comparisons aren’t necessary – it’s enjoyable on its own merit.

You can hear Fault Lines on Bandcamp HERE, and the vinyl is just ten bucks.

Moving Parts – “Moving Parts” (1983)

This is another of the local records I picked up a few weeks back over at Tacoma’s Hi-Voltage Records. Their section of Northwest bands was a treasure trove of mostly-forgotten Seattle-area music from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, before grunge changed everything.

I wasn’t familiar with Moving Parts and suspected that finding anything about the band would be challenging, but the second Google link revealed an interesting and insightful band history written by some of the former members. You can check it out HERE, as well as catch up on their current project Empire of Sleep. Like so many bands, the fickle hand of fate turned success into defeat for Moving Parts, when their contract with Epic was halted at the very last minute after Sony took over that business and killed it. They simply never recovered and couldn’t get any other interest after that.

Moving Parts put out a 7″ in 1982 and followed it with a five-song 12″ the next year, which is the record I’ve been spinning. Their sound fits nicely into the period, a slightly more post-punky new wave a little reminiscent of Wang Chung when they were still Huang Chung. I know, I know… that’s lazy blogging right there, saying “this band reminds me of this other band that you’ve heard of”. Sorry. “Cities Return to Me” best captures the mood of the record as a whole, though the more up tempo “Princess and the President” is the most intriguing. I’ve been trying to figure out how to best describe James Irwin’s vocals – melancholy isn’t the right word because there really isn’t any sadness here. Indifferent implies he doesn’t care about what he’s doing, so that doesn’t fit either. His voice has that sort of Generation X (the generation of people, not the Billy Idol band)… resignation, perhaps? It’s that feeling of “we’re not going to get too up or too down here”. It’s even there when he shows more range as he does on “Nothings Gonna Bring Me Down”. His voice sounds like how many of us felt then, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

Sex Gang Children – “Singles Collection” (2003)

Take some goth, add some jungle rhythms, wailed metal-like vocals, black-and-white vampire movies, mummy dust, and black eyeliner, blend them in a concoction of fortified wine and sparkling soda, and serve slightly chilled and you’ll get something that’s kinda sorta like the early (1982-85 era) Sex Gang Children songs on Singles Collection. Eleven compositions, aural collages blending hope and despair, taking you down dark paths that are both frightening but tinglingly exciting at the same time.