Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Ah, the 1990s! The decade that would bring our heroine worldwide fame and glory! But at the very beginning of this decade she was still just a young promising vocalist in a European alt rock band barely known outside Iceland.
At the end of my review of Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week I said that The Sugarcubes went on a hiatus after that album, and it looks like Björk saw it as a chance of trying something new, at the same time taking a rest from all the post-punky experimentalism she engaged in with her three previous bands. And Björk, as you’d imagine, isn’t someone to settle for just ONE new thing to try, so here’s a list of all the new stuff she tried during that hiatus:
- She played some clarinet in a big-band called Hljómsveit Kondráds;
- She recorded backing vocals for an album named Gums by a band named Bless;
- She recorded a lounge jazz album, and this latter one actually became her best-selling record in her home country FOR YEARS TO COME! Imagine that!
This latter effort is also the one I am reviewing today, since it feels significant enough for Björk’s subsequent career. So, Björk joins a fairly successful Icelandic trio of pianist Guðmundur Ingólfsson, drummer Guðmundur Steingrímsson and bassist Þórður Högnason and they create this little almost-forgotten gem.
I will say outright that I have a really soft spot for this record: yes, it is a collection of pretty basic lounge jazz covers of some popular Icelandic and English-language standards instrumentally performed in a pretty generic way. But at the same time the record has two very obvious and pretty undeniable advantages:
- It is so unassuming, humble and almost childishly lightweight that it’s literally impossible to criticize these very simple renditions of several jazz tunes, intended to be just that – simple renditions of several jazz tunes and even a couple of silly children’s numbers. Even the album’s title suggests that – it can be literally translated to English as “ding-dong” (i.e. the sound that bells make, not what some of you have just imagined!).
- Björk’s singing. OH MY GOD SHE COULD HAVE BEEN A JAZZ QUEEN. Her unique charisma, raw emotionality and fantastic range make these lounge pieces sound so alive, so frantic, so filled with passion and so unique! Listen to stuff like Kata Rokkar and tell me it does not sound absolutely ecstatic while at the same time being so boyishly cute. God, her ability of being so many things within just one song is astounding! All the intricacies of her voice rising, falling, jumping, shrieking, then gently floating and then madly rushing again, while staying so human and relatable at all times, make you completely forget about the generic playing and enjoy the fun ride.
The only thing I dislike about this record, apart from that generic playing, is that alongside great stuff like the aforementioned Kata Rokkar or Pabbi Minn or Litli tónlistarmaðurinn or Tondeleyo or Ruby Baby, there are also subpar songs which Björk still does well, but these songs provide her much less room to really shine, and hence they don’t feel as idiosyncratic. But on the whole this is one enjoyable record if you’re at all into vocal jazz, I promise you that.
Tune in next time, when we are going to follow Björk as she wraps up her band career before completely embarking on her solo musical journey.
Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
And here we go again! Hope you missed me and my Björkish reviews!
So, the year is 1989, and the followup Sugarcubes album has just been released, a little over a year after the debut. I’ll state right away that it is not nearly as good. The vibe is still there, the jovial energy is also still present, but the songwriting isn’t at all interesting this time around. Another problem is that for some reason they decided that Einar Örn should do as much vocals as Björk. Baaaaad mistake, Sugarcubes. I could actually end my review right here because I honestly think that only hardcore Björk or Sugarcubes fans should bother with this record. But on the other hand that would be doing this album grave injustice, because it isn’t bad at all! In fact, if Life’s Too Good never existed, I would quite enjoy Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! So, instead of bashing the hell out of it I’ll try to concentrate on the good things:
- The bass playing is very consistent throughout the record, kudos to Bragi Ólafsson! Sigtryggur Baldursson’s neat drumming complements it nicely, too.
- The songs are mostly short and fast, which makes them enjoyable even if they’re not very memorable.
- The guitar licks are very new-wavy which somehow makes this record janglier than its predecessor.
- Björk’s singing is great as always (It’s when Einar Örn opens his mouth that problems begin, and BOY does he sing a lot here, unfortunately).
- (Have to make them at least five, have to make them at least five) Weeeell… Errrr…. The fifth advantage of this album would be… would be… Well, the album’s title is interesting, I guess? (A piece of trivia: It’s a reference to Wind in the Willows!) Maybe not. Whatever.
So… yeah. That’s it. Overall it’s just an okay album, so if you’re a casual fan, get Life’s Too Good and be happy with it. Cause this one is really basically the same, only worse in several aspects.
The Sugarcubes themselves probably understood that too and went on a hiatus right after finishing their tour to promote this record.
Tune in next time, when we find out what is it exactly that her Björkishness was busy with during said hiatus.
Review by: Andreas Georgi
Assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
This was a fun album to listen to, although I didn’t have as much time to digest it as I might have liked. This album is a compilation of material from the band’s previous material, put together after the death of one of their key members. The music was recorded in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Their style is very eclectic, based on flamenco or rumba, and incorporating a mix of international popular music styles, including rock, reggae, and even a bit of rap. These kinds of fusion often turn into a mess, but these guys merge the styles into a cohesive, unique style. There appear to be two singers, one who has a raspy voice more in line with (my relatively ignorant preconception of) flamenco singers, and another singer who sings in a higher register who reminds me of Manu Chao a bit.
The album title and many of the lyrics make reference to “garrapatas”, or ticks. The reference seems to refer to humble and/or rural origins (I don’t know their biographies). Many of the songs refer to the street, and to life on the margins of society. The tick metaphor seems to be used as a symbol of freedom from the trappings and expectations of society. I do speak Spanish, but a lot of Spanish/Andalusian slang & cultural references went over my head.
Overall quite an enjoyable album. If you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll miss out on the humor, but you’ll still enjoy the music. Fans of the afore-mentioned Manu Chao would probably like this album. Thumbs up.