2017 Discography Review Challenge: BJÖRK GUÐMUNDSDÓTTIR & TRÍÓ GUÐMUNDAR INGÓLFSSONAR – Gling-Gló (1990)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

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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:

  1. 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!).
  2. 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.

2017 Discography Review Challenge: THE SUGARCUBES – Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! (1989)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

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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:

  1. The bass playing is very consistent throughout the record, kudos to Bragi Ólafsson! Sigtryggur Baldursson’s neat drumming complements it nicely, too.
  2. The songs are mostly short and fast, which makes them enjoyable even if they’re not very memorable.
  3. The guitar licks are very new-wavy which somehow makes this record janglier than its predecessor.
  4. 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).
  5. (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.

JAKE’S COLUMN: THE WHO- The Who Sings My Generation (1965)

Review by: Jake Myers 

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Rating: 8/10

Best Songs: “The Good’s Gone”, “My Generation”, “The Kids Are Alright”
Worst Songs: “I Don’t Mind”, “Please, Please, Please”

One thing that’s always fun to imagine is how your average listener in 1965, having just opened the sleeve and put the needle down on this album for the first time, would have reacted. When those first rumbles of feedback came echoing through the speakers, or when the insistent “You don’t know me, no!” chants first appeared, it must have been an exhilarating signal of a new kind of spirit in rock music.

Something we all could have done without, though, is the two James Brown covers. The band may have been rooted deeply in RnB, but to throw out their rocking spirit completely was a mistake. The two songs stumble along without the melodic force of the source material, each instead preferring a bland kind of drone. No thanks.

To be sure, the title track is the best on here. Right from the opening, with the urgent, slamming riff we all know and love and the mocking, stuttering verses, this song earns its reputation as one of the greatest youth anthems ever. It’s strikingly confrontational in comparison to what other bands were singing at the time, although I can just imagine the reaction to be had in 1965 if Daltrey had subbed in an actual “FUCK OFF” at a live show.

But that mod bitterness isn’t present on all the songs. Stuff like “La-La-La-Lies” is as light and poppy as what The Beatles were doing around that time, even if it does sound a lot more streetwise. It’s a strange contrast, but that’s a large part of the charm of this album for me. The gradient shifts more toward grittiness with “The Good’s Gone”, one of my personal favorites. The repetitive, morose “the good’s goooooone” droning of the chorus, almost a chant, and the sneering verses all sound fantastic alongside those dark, grinding riffs.

“The Kids Are Alright” takes things in a different direction with its warm harmonies and more measured delivery, but rest assured the energy and the Mod cynicism are still there. It’s a smooth, infectious song right from the opening chord, and to this day its young Mod spirit remains almost as immortal as that of “My Generation”. “The Ox” is another gem: Keith may seem to dominate the song with his manic thrashing and crashing, but the interplay between guest star Nicky Hopkins (always a treat) and the growling bass of the Ox himself is an exquisite sort of controlled chaos. Then there are some funny throwaways like “It’s Not True” and “A Legal Matter”, which are entertaining enough despite having less depth than the other tracks.

It’s striking to note, after years of listening to classics like “Behind Blue Eyes”, just how obvious the R ‘n B influence is all over this album. Sure, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones took a lot of cues from the genre themselves, but these guys took in rhythm and blues as the main template for their sound, and nowhere is that more obvious than on the debut. The band would morph away from the raw sound of this album soon enough, but the spirit would only continue to grow, and the roots would remain for a good long time.

2017 Discography Challenge: PHIL COLLINS- Face Value (1981)

Review by: Alex Alex


If Phil Collins is ever to stand a metaphysical trial wherein the “audience” accuses him of whatever is now understood as “abuse” of the rotten taste of the modern “generation” then such a trial will be like those in the old Communist movies, Phil Collins (again, metaphysically, most alas) sentencing the prosecutors themselves with his whatever action in these, rotten again, times stands for “speech” but nonetheless represents the story of life.
It begins with how he passes a job interview to join some (rotten) artsy-bourgeois, already perverted and proto-virtual, band or what the hell was it – an anime? – already starting to change the “outer” world to the anime – by means of wearing unnecessary articles and adding needless “elements” to what once used to be Work– the thing Phil Collins was interested in, the real work, to obtain which he had to swim in a pool while learning the new drum patterns, a proletariat having to wear a uniform of the cyberpunk and the Matrix.

When a man refuses to watch black-and-white movies on the ground that there are the color ones he simply demands less humanity and more computerized processes. Humanity is intolerable for the kawaii – same as a muscular proletarian figure, such as Mr Collins is, never needs the Miyazaki sunflowers but demands songs instead, the personal ones, the masculine not as now the condoms are called “Masculine” (the penis being virtual) but as once the manliness was present galores in the Atlantis which (Atlantis) has collapsed into the flat screens of the purchased then rented then pirated then zipped then deleted then not found videos.

“You are no sons of mine!” this is what Phil Collins may say to the judges but this already will seem cartoonish – we must see beyond that, we must understand the times where Mr Collins actually has SAVED Genesis, Genesis being done, drowning in the virtual ocean, Mr Gabriel’s brain too weak to fight the recording studios AI – here enters Mr Collins and proudly, I mean, indeed, PROUDLY, presents the Album, Face Value by name, by hearing which you are cured and you are the man again.

For, even the yuppies, having obtained whatever the computer has, in fact, only leased to them while they whey working for Him, drums gated to the delirium and other spare parts of the tentacles now frowned upon as “dated” by the people who frantically try to conceal from themselves that they are, in fact, complain of the total inhumanity of everything – and so the act of Mr Collins sending the divorce request by the “fax machine” meets everyone’s disapproval not because of any “morality” but because such machines are not existing anymore (replace the fax by the e-mail as a mental experiment). Ah, but the same as it was before the birth of Satan, everybody is interested in the entropy which is a Story.

You, people, listen to this album – it’s an old noir movie – how fantastically it starts with the murdering scene, how the hero then recollects his life story: when Love started all that for him – but was it, really, a human feeling, a love or was it something else (gated drums sound)?

We are then slowly progressing to realize the doom, the fate, the descent as we learn that everything has, in fact, been “written in the book”, the reverberating gates of Necronomicon, the house of humanity destroyed, its roof is leaking, there are no human children anymore, no Ma and no Pa, only robots around, gating the drums as crazy.

And then one realizes that he is drowned – he, himself, now – same as he has helped to drown that other one in the first song – a lover or who, THE OTHER HUMAN as he was – and there’s no lyrics to the drowning – which is quite understandable for those who ever was drowning – and then the hero is drowning hand in hand with his love – because we are all alone or in two, drowning in the abyss of the infernal.

“I Missed Again!” exclaims the hero – but you did not miss when you were killing that man, did you? So drown, drown!

And then many, many and many more hymns to the despair and ruthlessness which, is, perhaps, why the hero decides to commit suicide in the end. Alas, in the virtual reality no such thing as suicide is possible and so he only repeats again and again, desperately and feebly, “I’m not moving. Not really”.

Honestly, listen to this album if for the gated drums only.

2017 Discography Review Challenge: FRANK ZAPPA- Introduction

Written by: Thing-Fish

Hey, you’re probably wondering why I’m here. Well, due to a mixture of boredom and a desire to prove myself as a writer, I’ve decided (in a frankly perverse decision) to review the entire catalogue of Frank Vincent Alonso Zappa. But who is Frank Zappa?

Frank Zappa is a composer, conductor, guitar player, satirist and cultural icon, who in his lifetime produced over fifty albums in various styles, ranging from doo wop to modern classical. Frank Zappa is commonly thought of as something of an acquired taste, which means that a lot of what he produced over the years sounds like absolute shit and/or baffling noodling on first listen. And indeed for some of his catalogue I’m sure this feeling will continue over subsequent listens as well. I own about half a dozen of his albums but I still don’t think I’ve got a full grasp of his style. This will by nessescity mean that this review series will be more of a ‘first impressions’ kind of deal than a in depth musicological analysis. By the end of this journey I may indeed hate the majority of the catalogue or I may love it. But hey, its the journey not the end result that is important. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself . 

I’ll try and keep these reviews reasonably concise and give you an idea of what each of these album’s actually sounds like behind the lurid and often grotesque covers. I’ll try to vary the style of the reviews on occasion so you don’t all get incredibly bored. So lets go back to where it all started….

2017 Discography Review Challenge: THE SUGARCUBES – Life’s Too Good (1988)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

As it happens with many bands, KUKL split up some months after releasing their second album, and Björk formed a duo called The Elgar Sisters with their guitarist Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson. Together they would subsequently record some songs Björk would use in her later career. At about the same time Björk married another guitarist Þór Eldon and shortly after gave birth to a son. And that was when Björk, Eldon, another former KUKL member Einar Örn and a bunch of lesser-known guys formed The Sugarcubes. 

But enough with objective facts, here’s the highly subjective part: Life’s Too Good is easily the best album featuring Björk before her solo career but also probably the only Sugarcubes album you will ever need.

In spite of featuring two ex-members of KUKL, The Sugarcubes is not shamanic experimental avant-garde act but merely an alternative rock band. “Merely” but not actually merely! This is GOOD and quite idiosyncratic alternative rock with solid pop hooks, fine guitar riffs, postpunkish dance rhythms and, of course, young Björk in top form. But here’s the twist: the original idea behind The Sugarcubes was to create… a humorous band! Imagine that! This was supposed to be a parody of pop music with its shining optimism (hence the record’s title) but looks like that was sort of abandoned in the process because the actual music ended up sounding bigger and better than a bunch of novelty numbers. And there are really dark moments on the album, too. But hey, the fun and the mischief are still there! This is a very enjoyable record!

You might know the big single from here called Birthday and it is an amazing song but the rest of the stuff is no slouch either. Motorcrash, Sick for Toys and the comic Fucking In Rhythm & Sorrow are my particular favourites (the latter DOES sound like a novelty number but it’s so exciting and funny that I don’t mind). Should I even mention Björk doing a great job on all of these songs? That goes without saying, doesn’t it?

On the whole, Life’s Too Good can sound too juvenile and quirky to some (then again if you don’t like quirky stuff you probably shouldn’t be listening to Björk at all) and too uneven to others but it’s so fun and weirdly exhilarating that I’d say it’s an absolute must even for casual Björk fans. 

Stay tuned for more Björkish reviews!

2017 Discography Review Challenge: KUKL – Holidays in Europe (The Naughty Nought) (1986)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

KUKL’s second and final album… is surprisingly different from the first one while maintaining the same overall direction at the same time (so yes, this is still post-punkish avant-rock and NOT “hard rock from some tasty geezers” like the caption on the album cover says). This is every bit as intense and surreal as their previous effort (almost as short too, at a little more than half hour) but golly! Look at the production this time round! A plethora of weird instruments, sound snippets, samples, diverse percussion, lots of bizarrely sounding horns and synths, some distorted guitars amidst all of this – this is some wonderfully messy avant-garde cacophony! There’s not much use in describing it though – it basically all sounds a lot like the album sleeve – chaotic and schizophrenic.

Björk’s voice, on the other hand, takes on the role of the element that brings it all together. Some reviewers express the opinion that she sounds a bit kimgordonish here, and I have to agree, the key difference being – Bjork can actually sing. Granted, experimental stuff like this doesn’t require actual “singing”, I guess, more of ecstatic shouting of the gloomy lyrics, but Björk’s vocal ability (or charisma, or both) still somehow shines through, especially when you compare her vocalizing to Einar Örn’s much less memorable yells. At any rate, this album deserves a listen (or even several listens, since this nightmarish music takes its time to really open up to you), especially if you enjoy dark and noisy experimental rock. The record’s total lack of structure might be a bit bewildering, though. But experiments are experiments – they are usually interesting yet short-lived, unlike Björk’s career which was basically only beginning at this point…