Þórir Georg – “Fallið Er Dáið” (2019)

Þórir Georg has a broad musical palette – indie, folk, hardcore, metal… his musical travels are far and wide, and the one thing you always know you’re going to get from Georg is 100% sincerity. Whatever he is working on at the moment, he’s pouring everything he has into the music.

Georg’s latest release is a 19-minute ambient track recorded on the day he learned of the passing of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Somber ambient, it captures the damp cold of a Reykjavik winter, the wind penetrating even the thickest leather jacket, your pant cuffs soaked and wicking up cold water as you trudge through the few hours of twilight before darkness arrives again. It’s a reflective piece that captures the sense of loss we feel when someone important to us dies. It doesn’t matter that we never met them, because their art touched us at times in our lives when that was of paramount importance. It’s a different kind of mourning than one experiences for a friend or loved one, but a strong feeling nonetheless, one still capable of dampening our mood.

Bluesanct put out Fallið Er Dáið (which translates to The Fall Is Dead) in a limited edition of 50 cassettes. It’s available both in physical format as well as digital at the label’s Bandcamp page HERE, and you can also listen to the entire thing for free.

Mattesque – “Album” (2018)

Mattesque and I knew of each other before we formally met. We’re part of that dedicated group of Iceland Airwaves fans and over the years we’d see one another at various shows and even at the airport when we happened to be on the same flight to or from Reykjavik. There are dozens of people who we have this kind of strange relationship with, people we recognize on sight but have never actually spoken to. I’m sure Holly and I are part of other people’s recognition circles as well, probably even a few who we personally wouldn’t know on sight. Fortunately a few years back at Bíó Paradís he walked up and said hi, and we all quickly became fast friends. Hopefully we’ll catch up at Airwaves again this year.

Mattesque makes his living with sound. Have you ever wondered where the music and non-music sounds in video games come from? They come from guys like Mattesque, making noise on whatever comes their way, funneling it through various pedals and electro-gizmos in the never-ending quest to make something unique and interesting. He also makes non-gaming music, which you can check out on his Bandcamp page HERE.

Album is a collection of nine ambient and experimental tracks Mattesque wrote in 2018. I’ve been playing it quite a bit lately in various environments – at home, on airplanes, in coffee shops, on my commute – and everywhere I listen it sounds a bit different, interacting with the environment in different ways, a given track fading into the background in a noisy Starbucks but capturing all my attention during an early morning drive to work. If there’s an underlying thread that connects these tracks, to me that would be “introspection”. Of course, that might just be me imparting my psyche onto Mattesque’s art. But isn’t that part of the experience of art? There is an aloneness to the sound. Not lonely… but simply alone. And you can be alone inside a crowded Starbucks in a way that’s not much different than if you were on the dark side of the moon.

Every time I listen to Album it’s the third song, “Long Facts”, that hits me in the face like an unexpected slap. There’s a sharp suddenness to the way it follows the first two tracks, the electronics cold as ice, bringing a precision that makes it impossible to ignore. “In Deep Waves” continues the futuristic feel of “Long Facts” but without the frigidity, moving us into an old lava tube underground where you can start to feel some of the heat of the earth’s core, the pulsing beat like the heartbeat of the planet. I could listen to this 10 minute segment of Album over and over again.

There are some dark turns to Album, places where the mood becomes more sinister. “First Wave Release” transmits an implied danger, not overtly, but more the sense of being in a situation that could result in trouble. It has an underwater feel, like snorkeling and ending up in a dark patch of water in a place where you know there are things that could sting you (or worse) if you’re not careful. It’s not a Great White circling you, but more of a heightened sense of being outside your native environment and in a place where you have minimal control.

“Dark Bit Faders” takes things in an industrial direction. We’re not talking IDM here, but true industrial, the low end beat overlaid with a very metallic, higher pitched one. It’s an industrial sound like one would expect to find inside a factory, the widgets being pounded out by the machinery one after another after another, an endless cycle of production only limited by the need to have a human dump the raw materials into the gaping maw as the assembly line is fed, it’s appetite endless, only stopping when there is nothing left to consume.

I thought about reaching out Mattesque and asking a few questions about his perceptions about Album, but the more I thought about it the more I was reminded of the scene in Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil when John Cusack’s character John Kelso asks Jim Williams if he has x-rayed a painting to see the original painting underneath.

Cusack: How will you know what it’s obscuring?

Jim Williams: I rather enjoy not knowing.

I rather enjoy not knowing too. There’s a lot to like on Album. If your tastes run toward dark ambient, you’ll likely find some things to pull into a loving dark embrace. You can listen to the entire thing on Mattesque’s Bandcamp page as well as purchase your own download, so if you like it, buy it. The money isn’t going to some corporate mega-label so they can trickle a few pennies back to the performer, it’s about supporting the artist directly.

Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson & BJNilsen – “The Found Tapes” (2018)

The creation of music is, for the musician, a personal process. Whether making the most seemingly vapid sugary pop or the most challenging avant garde, the creator brings at least some elements of his/her personal experience to the process. And while we as listeners can never fully feel that place, we can hear the result, and what is produced is, at least scientifically speaking, the same for all of us. Sure, one person’s hearing may be better than another’s, but at the end of the day we can use equipment to show precisely what the sound waves look like. So while the artist’s personal experience is still unique to them, the rest of us have a framework (the song) through which to try to comprehend it.

Dreams, on the other hand, are a totally different story. In theory we all dream, though I’ve known a few people over the years who say they never, ever remember their dreams upon waking. That seems so strange to me, because while I don’t always remember my dreams, I’d say that most mornings immediately upon waking I have at least some recollection of what I dreamed. These memories are often quite fragmented, sometimes even down to just a snapshot-like image or two, and they’re certainly hard to keep in my mind, fading like an ice cube melting on hot concrete. I’ve even been fortunate enough to have a few lucid dreams, which is a total trip and can be quite a lot of fun if you can manage to stay asleep. But have you ever tried explaining your dream to someone else, or listened as they tried to explain theirs to you? The entire thing often sound so bizarre, and often quite different from your own dream experiences. Do we all dream the same way? It doesn’t seem like it. Some people’s dreams are quite linear, while others are complete chaos. And what about the emotional connection to your dreams? We’re talking about something that is a shared human experience, but one which we literally have no way of truly sharing with others. Maybe I could make a film or a song that captured some dream I had, but the disconnect is at a very deep level.

Listening to The Found Tapes is like intruding into another person’s dream. It’s like getting inside someone’s head and hearing their unconscious, the sometimes faint, sometimes bold firing of synapses. There are threads that seems to have a logical flow to them, but at times these are sharply broken by the entirely unexpected. Sigmarsson (part of Stilluppsteypa) and Nilsen create a universe that feels like it is set inside a hollow cranium, a confined space capable of reflecting and shifting sound in ways that can be both beautiful and unsettling. Some places are calm and orderly, others dark and primal, superego and id co-existing and sometimes colliding like billiard balls rolling along a rubber mat, so that even when they don’t make physical contact they still change one another’s trajectories due to the curves their masses introduce onto the surface. It’s the sound of the early days of the universe, a Jungian archetype coded into our DNA by the big bang.

I believe there are two versions of this release. The first is a cassette accompanied by a 112 page color art book in a limited edition of 70 copies. The second, which is the one I have, is also an edition of 70 copies, but is simply a cassette and one signed/numbered photo in a plastic pouch. Overall the best genre description I can come up with is experimental ambient, but what you really want it for is the dreams… the dreams…

Ohrmazd – “Venturing Beyond Irreality” Cassette (2018)

The tracks on Venturing Beyond Irreality were recorded between 2008 and 2018, and I believe released for the first time earlier this year in limited editions of 66 copies each on cassette and CDr. I got my tape via Depressive Illusions HERE, and for a couple of Euro extra they included a burned CRr as well.

At pretty close to 60 minutes in length, this is a lot of dark ambient (the Depressive Illusions website describes Ohrmazd as “Dark Atmospheric Dungeon Ambient”) for one sitting. It leans much more to the evil side of the darkness continuum (as opposed to morose) – at times I feel like I’m hearing the intro to what will burst into a black metal sonic assault, but the attack never comes, leaving you instead with that undercurrent of fear and dread. When Ohrmazd sample in human voices, like they do on “Tomb of Bones”, the effect is even more amplified and you start to wonder if you’re actually losing your mind. Don’t worry, you’re not. Well… probably not, at least.

Stilluppsteypa – “Beach Jolanda” (2018)

I sat down to write this on Saturday morning after an impossibly long and challenging work week. I managed ten hours of sleep last night, which I desperately needed, but that left me with that weird sort of sleep hangover where you feel like you both got too much sleep and not enough at the same time. As I sat in front of the computer with my second cup of coffee I looked down and there was a little island of tiny bubbles floating at the top of the magical liquid, still slowly circling the middle of the cup from where I had been stirring it. And somehow, at that moment, that was the perfect visual accompaniment to the beginning of Stilluppsteypa’s “Wonderful To Communicate”, the momentary pure blending of my foggy state, a cup of coffee, and sound.

A few months ago Stilluppsteypa released Beach Jolanda, a collection of a dozen tracks recorded between 2006 and 2017. I picked up a copy via a Facebook post and have been looking forward to giving it a spin. It’s hard to describe what’s happening on Beach Jolanda. I suppose the easy word to use is “experimental” in that the compositions generally don’t follow any standard musical flows or patterns, but that sells it a bit short. This isn’t just some kind of electro-noise album – there’s an intentionality at work. There’s an overall ambient current that gives the listener a starting point. From there it undulates in different directions, at times feeling like a field recording (“Denise”), at others like a 1960s sci-fi movie soundtrack on acid. (♠) And somehow it all seems to fit together.

It’s been over a decade since the last release that came out under only the Stilluppsteypa name – most of the more recent works have been collaborations with BJ Nilsen. I wonder if it will be the last… we’ll have to wait and see. The vinyl is limited to 400 copies and can still be found online HERE, so get it while you can.

(♠) The grooves on the vinyl don’t clearly delineate the songs, and nothing seems to truly end in a conventional way… so while I know this was about half way through side A, I have no idea what track it is.