Hórmónar – “Nanananabúbú” (2018)

We first encountered Hórmónar at Iceland Airwaves in 2016. They were fresh off their win at Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual “Battle of the Bands”, a competition that has launched some pretty decent careers over the last decade or so. We were in a small club and this was one of their first live performances. You could tell that they were a bit nervous, but also see that they were having a lot of fun. We enjoyed their hard rock stylings and vowed to keep tabs on them.

Fast forward one year later and nervousness and swinging hair were gone, replaced by a heavy dose of swagger and L7-like intensity. Gone too was that hard rock sound, replaced by something that was both more punk and more metal at the same time. The photographic evidence is below. I’ll let you make the call (top – 2016; bottom – 2017):

The band’s debut was a four-song self-titled EP in 2016, which they followed with a full-length in August of this year. The 11-song Nanananabúbú includes the four tracks from the original EP, but I believe all four were completely re-recorded for their latest effort. The entire album has an insistent quality to it, a sort of underlying anxiety like a band that has so much they want to play for you but they’re afraid if they don’t get it out there quickly they might somehow lose the whole thing, like trying to hold onto a fistful of sand and watching as it runs through your fingers no matter how hard you try to keep a grip on it. Highlights include the alternating passion and gloom of “Költ”, the stripped-down rocker “Kynsvelt”, and the oddly playful “Glussi”.

Nanananabúbú was released on CD as a limited edition of 100, but I haven’t seen that offered for sale anywhere so my guess is they’re long since sold out. But have no fear, because you can still get the album via digital download from the Hórmónar Bandcamp page HERE. While that is my format of last resort, I still broke down and purchased a digital copy because that’s how good it is.

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Day 4

It’s 10:30AM Sunday in Reykjavik, and I’m tired. Like really, really tired. When the cathedral bells of Hallkrimskirkja started going off like crazy I was afraid we’d slept until Noon. Though on second thought that sounds like a pretty great idea. Saturday feels like it was Day 4 of Airwaves… of Airwaves 2016 because it seems like so long ago.

We made two off-venue stops yesterday. The first was to catch Lady Boy Records electronic band Panos from Komodo playing at a Salvation Army second-hand store. We didn’t realize that these dudes are also the guitarist and bassist for Godchilla, who we saw on Friday. (♠) Their lo-fi electronica set was both fun and funny, and their cover of Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” done entirely off key was something to behold. I felt a little bad for the old guy in the store who just wanted to buy a hat, but hey, whatever. Later we rolled over to KEX Hostel with the intention of seeing the ambient black metal band GlerAkur, but truth be told their soundcheck, which featured FIVE guitarists, was simply too loud. I know, I know… “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Fine. I’m too old. And I didn’t bring ear protection and would like to still be able to hear when I’m actually old. You know, back when I was your age…

For dinner we made our annual stop at Shalimar for Pakistani food, then it was off to the Reykjavik Art Museum for the best, most stacked card of the night. Six bands, five of which we know and four of which we’re big fans of. We staked out a little corner nook in front of the soundboard area that put us in the heart of the action, about 50 feet from the stage in the long Art Museum room.

We basically stayed in that exact same spot for the next 6.5 hours. First up was the female-fronted metal band Hórmónar (below). Their lead singer’s voice was worse for wear after multiple shows during the festival, but she was a trooper and fought through it as the rest of the band compensated by turning the volume knobs to 11. (♣) We saw them last year and they were one of the surprise new bands of the festival. But a year later we experienced a much more confident group with a great stage presence, one that wasn’t just winging it but knew exactly what they wanted to do.

That brought us to Auður and his hyper-sexualized brand of electronic R&B. We saw `Auður last year and were impressed with his chutzpa when he introduced the crowd to his mother, telling us this was her first time seeing him perform live and they proceeding to sing a song that very explicitly told us EXACTLY what he wanted to do to a girl, with liberal use of the F word. That being said, his music is excellent and he’s got a great voice. Unfortunately we’re thinking there were some kind of technical problems because 10 minutes before his set was scheduled to end and out of the blue he went all Pete Townshend on his guitar. It didn’t break the first time, which had to hurt his hands and arms like hell, but the second attempt blew it up pretty good. He then stormed off stage, to the seeming surprise of his electronics guy who stood there for a good 15-20 seconds before slowly closing his laptop and walking off. Fufanu followed, playing quite a bit of material off their 2017 album Sports. The band was tight and continues to impress as they’ve matured. There were some technical difficulties, but the upside from my perspective is that we got to hear the title track twice. I’m wondering if similar technical problems didn’t contribute to the untimely demise of Auður’s guitar. RIP Auður’s guitar; we hardly knew ye.

Then came the doom metal juggernaut that is HAM (below). We are HAM! This was the fourth time I’ve seen a full HAM set, and the fourth time they assimilated my being into he collective known as HAM. We are HAM! HAM brought it hard, with a few new tracks but also classics like “Dauð Hóra” and “Partíbær”. The intensity of the pit grew over the course of the set as more and more horns were thrown and by the closing number the area in front of the stage more resembled a riot than a concert. All another day in the life of one of Iceland’s first metal bands. If HAM is playing live at Airwaves, I’ll always try to catch them at least once.

After the HAM show my buddy turned to me and said, “I kind of wish we could fast forward past this next band and get to Gusgus”. I understand the sentiment in that we were all really looking forward to a 90 minute Gusgus set, but I was intrigued by the fact that the next band was from Mali. How did they end up on this card? Well, I still don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is that Songhoy Blues (below) reminded us why we spent all that money and flew all those miles to get to Reykjavik with their incredibly high energy and super positive vibe set of afro-funk-rock. The crowd ate it up, and I for one will be ordering their new album Résistance when we return home.

And that, my friends, brings us to Gusgus (below). A stripped down version of Gusgus this time around, with only Biggi and Daniel on stage. And they killed it for 90 minutes with a combination of somewhat recent material, most of it from 24/7 forward and including what I believe were some new numbers from the upcoming album. It was a nearly non-stop river of music flowing over us, with the guys building and building the tension before finally giving us the release of the drop. They were in top form, and while we were staggeringly tired when we walked out the door at 2AM I’m sure we’d have stayed another hour if they’d kept going.

Last night at the Art Museum was one of the all-time great start-to-finish lineups we’ve ever seen at Airwaves. It’ll take a few days or weeks to reflect to truly make that decision in my mind, as it’s too easy in the emotions of the moment to say “this is the most amazing moment ever”, forgetting that it’s not the first time you’ve felt this way.

There isn’t a lot of interest on the schedule tonight, but you never know what Airwaves has in store for you…

(♠) Which, to my sleep-deprived mind, seems like three years ago.

(♣) And they still weren’t even remotely as loud as GlerAkur.

Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Reflections

We’re back home from Iceland Airwaves. The laundry is done, the records have been cleaned and put into sleeves, and I’m a couple of days into Kókómjólk withdrawal. It was a bit more of a chill festival for us this year – after eight years of going to Reykjavik to gorge on music we don’t feel as obsessed with going out all day every day and seeing as many bands as possible, instead taking a bit more time to enjoy being with our friends in the city. I think the final tally this year for me was around 30 shows attended, compared to 41 last year.

The quality of the performances continues to improve year after year, which is great but can also make it hard to choose who to go see. However, a number of the more established Icelandic bands didn’t play this year (I’m looking at you, Gusgus… Legend… Skálmöld…), and some of those who did seemed to have limited schedules. If anything Airwaves ’16 seemed to be set up more for the little guy, which in many ways is a good thing. The off venue schedule has now reached the point where it’s almost impossible to grasp who is playing where and at what time, and with the rise of KEX Hostel as a legitimately good space it seems to me that you could very easily come to Airwaves in 2017 without a festival pass and still see tons and tons of amazing music all day and all night.

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious if you follow the blog that I’m kind of a music nut, so it’s probably not surprising that I came home with an overflowing record bag. Including the stuff I picked up in Stockholm in the days leading up to Airwaves I came home with something like 40 records, a dozen or so CDs, and another dozen cassettes (I upped my cassette game this year!). Most of my purchases came from Lucky Records and Reykjavik Record Shop, plus some cool stuff I picked up over at Stockholm’s Trash Palace. Going back to those haunts is like going back home, and while I didn’t bring back any super rarities (I almost pulled the trigger on a copy of Sororicide’s The Entity, but I just couldn’t do it) I’m pretty pleased with the stack of vinyl and plastic on my “To Listen To” shelf right now. I have enough material to carry the blog well into next year.

Without further ado, here’s my “Best of Airwaves” 2016 edition.

Best Venue: Last year I gushed about the return of NASA, but this year I somehow managed to not step foot in its doors for the entire festival. The same was true for Gaukurinn and Gamla Bíó. In fact the bulk of our on venue shows were at Harpa and Húrra, with only one quick check-in at Iðnó. So knowing that you’d probably think that one of those two would win Best Venue. But you’d be wrong – it was actually KEX Hostel. KEXP radio hosts shows there throughout the festival and since they’re broadcasting live you know they’re going to take the time to make sure the sound is great. Plus as an added bonus this year they built a small riser for the bands to play on – so instead of being at floor level like the have been in the past, now they’re raised maybe a foot or so which makes a huge difference for the folks watching from the back of the room. We saw four shows and a couple of DJ sets here and all of them sounded great. Plus the pulled pork sandwich is delicious.

Best New-To-Me Band: This one just keeps getting tougher every single year, but ultimately I was able to narrow it down to two bands fairly quickly. The runner up is Hórmónar who played a blistering set at Húrra on Thursday night, rocking out and bringing a ton of energy to the room. But my favorite was Dream Wife who despite playing one of the larger rooms at Harpa made the experience feel like you were seeing them in a small club. I referred to them as pop-punk in a previous post, but don’t let fool you into thinking that Dream Wife aren’t real punk, because they absolutely are. They were the only band I saw this year that made me immediately think to myself, “I have to go find one of their albums tomorrow”.

Best Show: This one wasn’t too tough for me, because the band I was most looking forward to seeing at Airwaves delivered. I speak, of course, of the good doktor, the sonic surgeon who will destroy your mind and leave your ears bleeding, Dr. Spock (below). Húrra is a small club – I’m guessing the main floor excluding the bar area might hold 150 people, if that, and it was slam packed. The mosh pit was intense but well-mannered and Dr. Spock delivered exactly what the fans wanted. I’m not sure how their other shows went, but this will probably go down as the most intense show we’ve ever seen at Airwaves. They closed it with “Sons of Ecuador” and tore the place down.

Coolest Music Purchases: In years past this has been “Best Record Shopping Experience,” but at this point I may as well retire that as Lucky gets it every year. As mentioned previously, I came home with a ton of music, but there are two items that particularly stick out. The first is a copy of the Dead SkeletonsOm Mani Peme Hung 7″, which is pretty tough to find especially here in the US. The other are the two cassettes put out by the Icelandic Punk Museum, one of which is a “Best Of” of early Icelandic punk while the other includes previously unreleased and live material. These were 3.000 ISK each or the pair for 5.000 ISK (about $45 US) and they come with download cards. I’m really excited to check these out, so look for them soon on the blog.

Biggest Regret: My biggest musical regret was not catching Agent Fresco on the festival’s last night. I caught a cold on Saturday, and by Sunday afternoon I was pretty much dead on my feet. I made it through the first two bands on the on venue schedule, but didn’t have the energy to last long enough to catch Fresco. We’ve seen them plenty of times in the past, though, so it only stings a little.

We had a great time at Iceland Airwaves ’16, catching up with old friends and making some new ones along the way. It’s amazing to look back over the past eight years and see how what was once a pretty small festival has blossomed (some might argue ballooned) into a serious international event. Tons of bands come to town solely to play off venue gigs and there’s music playing just about everywhere you go. Do I kind of miss the old days? Sure. Things seemed a bit simpler to wrap your arms around back in 2009 when there were no “headliners” and you didn’t have a massive music palace like Harpa. But the quality of bands has improved dramatically, and you never know when you’re going to discover something truly great that blows you away. And that’s what it’s all about.

Someday I suppose we’ll stop going to Airwaves. But that someday won’t be in 2017. Just 51 more weeks to go, and Icelandair packages go on sale before the end of the month…

Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Day 2

If you read yesterday’s Day 1 post, you’ll know how Day 2 started for me – with about four hours of sleep and being unable to get more. It didn’t hit me as hard as I expected until about midnight though, so Day 2 was pretty strong. And I managed my first full night of sleep of the entire trip last night, other than that ten minute period when some massively drunk dude was being held down on the sidewalk by a bunch of tourists until the police arrived at 4:30AM which was, of course, right across the street from our place. The mean streets of RVK 101.

Thursday opened with me back at Lucky Records, wrapping up my purchases for the trip. I walked away with a motley collection of CDs, records, and tapes and a lot less kronur in my pocket, and I’m super excited to get this stuff home to start blogging about it all. I won’t give you all the gory details as you’ll see them for yourself over the next few months. As always, the guys at Lucky were great, and I want to give a big Icelandic TAKK! to Ingvar, Gestur, and Johannes for always making us feel more like family than customers.

After fortifying ourselves with some lunch from Noodle Station, it was off to KEX Hostel to see Samaris (below). They’ve been regulars at the festival for a number of years but somehow we keep missing them. And after that set, I’m now pissed at my past self for passing them up all these years, because their set of electronic-vocal sultriness was the perfect antidote for a rainy Thursday afternoon. I hope everyone listening on KEXP, who were hearing the show just as they were waking up in the States, enjoyed it as much as we did. I swear one of these years I’m just going to not buy a festival pass and do nothing but hang out at all the KEX off-venue shows.

From there we headed back to Bíó Paradís to see the dream-pop duo Wesen, a pair featuring one of the dudes from Sudden Weather Change and the dudette from Oyama. Their banter and the way they interact with the crowd was every bit as fun as their music, and their quirky songs fit perfectly in the more intimate environment of the theater lobby.

Next up was the Icelandic PUNK Museum, which we finally found open on our third attempt. And damn, I have to hand it to Dr. Gunni and Finni (of Dr. Spock fame… you’ll hear more about them later in this post) – they put together an outstanding homage to punk in Iceland. Located inside a disused subterranean public bathroom right in the city center, the walls are plastered with old handbills, album covers, and factoids about Icelandic punk. Perhaps the coolest feature is the listening room that has album covers on the ceilings each with a pair of headphones dangling from them that play those actual albums. Super cool. Also cool is the pair of cassettes that are available for purchase, the first of which is a nice Icelandic punk comp while the other is filled with demos and live tracks, and they include download cards. In classic punk fashion, they’re recorded on regular old cassettes, and each has an individually hand-written label on it. A killer introduction to the punk scene here.

(Intermission – Holly just arrived with pastries from the new bakery Braud & Co. Wow! I’ll need to add them to my “recommended” list for next year!)

We then met some friends over at Slippbarinn to see Vök. You know, what more can I say about Vök that hasn’t already been said? They just get better and better every time we see them live, more confident on stage and tighter musically. They’re working on some new material, some of which they played, and I’m very much looking forward to their next release.

After an always-excellent Pakistani dinner at Shalimar it was a quick jog through the rain to Húrra to rock out with a trio of hard-hitting bands. First up was a relatively new genre-defying group Hórmónar (right), who combined punk attitude and hard rock/metal music (and the occasional saxophone) and in-your-face Icelandic vocals. I’m definitely going to keep tabs on these rockers, because I have a feeling we’re going to bearing a lot more from them in the coming years.

During our post-evening analysis, all five of us who went to Húrra agreed that when the next band set up on stage we were all fully prepared to dislike them – a four-man rock outfit with no vocals. Booo! Completely not in my wheelhouse. But it didn’t take long for the crowd (and us) to fall in love with Slovakia’s The Ills, who flat-out crushed it with their blend of jams, intricate and slow to fast and thrash and all points in between. They were obviously having so much fun up there on stage that it was infectious and by the end of the set they had us eating out of their hands. I should have tried to track them down after the show to buy a CD, but at that point we were intent on securing a good spot on the floor for the next band, the one we were in Húrra to see that night. I speak, of course, of the good doctor. Dr. Spock.

Sweet Jesus.

There was a lot of tension in the crowd prior to the set as more and more people moved to the front and started to pack it in. And a lot of those folks looked like they were going to be very serious about their Dr. Spock (left and below) experience. Then the band walked on stage and we were greeted with what you see here, the massive Finni sporting a ski mask and Óttarr looking like, well, Óttarr, snapping on that yellow glove like a demented back-alley plastic (or some other type) of surgeon about to cut you open with a jagged and very unsterile blade. And it didn’t take but a few second for things to get very real, very fast.

Holly was hesitant about being that close to the stage, and her concerns proved well-founded when the moshing started. As the show progressed we found ourselves edging backwards as the pit began reaching critical mass and started roiling like the water around the Kraken as it emerges from the water ready to destroy your city. The crowd was into it; the band was into; we were into it. By the time the reached the end of their set and “Sons of Ecuador” it was all just a mess of sweat and vape smoke and future hangovers as Dr. Spock took us to the finish line. Fantastic.

We were drained after the Dr. Spock assault, but still headed over to Harpa where we caught the tail end of Singapore Sling‘s big-stage set and then hung around to see the post-punk of Fufanu, another band that is slowly turning into a powerhouse and one I think is better suited for a larger stage and room like they had last night as opposed to a smaller venue that doesn’t give them as much space and sonic depth. They’ve got some great new material and we’re expecting an album soon.

Another killer night in the books! Two down, three to go!