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…

2017 Discography Review Challenge: KUKL – The Eye (1984)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

The Björk saga continues, my friends! After fun but short-lived Tappi Tíkarrass our heroine meets another bunch of creative Icelandic people and forms KUKL with them. ‘Kukl’ means ‘sorcery’ or ‘witchcraft’ and indeed this time m-lle Guðmundsdóttir and her pals set out to make some really shamanic music. This first of their two albums was inspired by a book by French author Georges Bataille that Björk loved reading as a teenager. The book was about some very young couple engaged in bizarre sexual perversions (you didn’t expect anything less from Björk, did you?), though, as far as I understand, that didn’t lead to this being a concept album but merely inspired a couple of songs and the album’s title and sleeve. 

But let’s get to the actual music. It’s… intense. This is the first experimental record in Björk’s career which in this case means you get pretty dark, gothic, noisy post-punk with strong krautrock and acid jazz influences. The sound is quite awesome, and, although many reviewers compare it to Siouxsie and the Banshees, and it IS a fair comparison, I’d say KUKL have their own distinct face. This isn’t standard gothic rock by any means, what with all flutes, pipes, bells and even an occasional trumpet, as well as proggy passages and insane rhythmic patterns. Björk is ecstatic as always but something tells me this record doesn’t make full use of her vocal capabilities – at times she even sounds intensely restrained. The production values, though some levels above Tappi Tíkarrass’s, still leave a lot to be desired. And, sadly, so does the songwriting – I struggle hard to remember at least a single track from here in my head even after several consecutive listens.

But this is still something, at times this music sounds almost cosmic; not to mention that it’s Björk’s first truly ambitious, truly creative and innovative effort, which won’t be to everyone’s taste but lovers of dark, frantic, brooding post-punk will appreciate it. Also, David Tibet rated it 5/5! Now that should tell something about it to all of you avant-garde aficionados out there. Cheers!

2017 Discography Review Challenge: TAPPI TÍKARRASS – Miranda (1983)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Aaaand… Here’s where the fun begins. After meddling with some teenage pop punk and jazz fusion bands the 17-year old Björk teams up with bassist Jakob Magnússon to form Tappi Tíkarrass which roughly translates as “Cork the Bitch’s Ass” from Icelandic. Yep, that is their name. Cork. The Bitch’s. Ass. And the music lives up to this amazing title! Well, almost. Anyway, after a debut EP they release their first (and only) LP called Miranda which is enough to cork the ass of anyone who claims Björk has no talent. Seriously, this album rules! It isn’t amazing or groundbreaking or even innovative to any degree but damn me if this isn’t good! A collection of catchy, angry, energetic, melodic, new wavish post-punk (or postpunkish new wave, whatever) songs recorded with low production values (which basically amount to some distortion and echo effects here and there) and it’s all very, very enjoyable. Sometimes these guys sound like Talking Heads, sometimes like The Smiths, often a bit like The Fall or Gang of Four; there are also a couple of guitar ballads thrown in for good measure – in short, there’s a melting pot of cool influences on display but Tappi Tíkarrass hold their own. However, frankly they would still be good but wouldn’t be anything special at all without our future Icelandic diva – currently a boisterous teenager – on vocals. She nails pretty much every song and brings tons of charisma and attitude to the whole thing. This is her true arrival as a musical wonder, and it is on this album that you can already see how she would become a unique artist she is nowadays. Find this album and hear it – while it isn’t at all essential Björk listening, it’s very enjoyable and deserves way more recognition than it has. Good stuff.

2017 Discography Review Challenge: BJÖRK GUÐMUNDSDÓTTIR – Björk (1977)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Before becoming a household name, Björk Guðmundsdóttir was a young Icelandic prodigy who learned to sing and play the piano and the flute at a young age and was naturally noticed by music producers of that small country when she was just entering her teens. The result was this little curiosity that only Björk completists and hardcore fans would now be interested in. What can I say about this album? It’s cute and totally inoffensive, and it’s precisely what you’d expect from a fairly talented 11-year old girl surrounded by fairly greedy producers, arrangers and managers. Pretty little songs with disco-ish beats and pedestrian instrumentation, three of them composed by Björk herself, the rest by some other (very mediocre) Icelandic composers, neither of these songs being terrible but all pretty unmemorable and performed in a perfectly childish voice. The two covers – Stevie Wonder’s Your Kiss Is Sweet and The Beatles’ The Fool on the Hill add nothing to their respective originals except for the fact that both songs are translated to Icelandic. There is one instrumental track (which is also boring but at least performed by Björk herself on the recorder). And not a single hint at the great things to come, except maybe for a fairly experimental sitar opening of the album. Well… I guess it’s no wonder she named her 1993 album Debut, as if to insist that this ACTUAL first solo effort never happened. But let’s not be too harsh, she was 11 for Chrissake. The good stuff is ahead, so keep following my Björk reviews (in which I’ll also try to review every band she ever was in)!