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

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Gling-glo-cover

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.

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BJÖRK GUÐMUNDSDÓTTIR & TRÍÓ GUÐMUNDAR INGÓLFSSONAR – Gling-Gló (1990)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

This is Björk’s “jazz album”, released in 1990, when she was still in the Sugarcubes. On this album she is accompanied by an Icelandic jazz trio. All the songs, but one, “Ruby Baby” (on the version I heard) are sung in Icelandic, making this the best jazz album sung in Icelandic (but also the worst) I have ever heard. 
Unfortunately this album has a number of weak points. First of all, while the trio is certainly quite competent and plays the music well enough, the music is honestly pretty much generic lounge music. There is not a lot to keep my interest. As far as Björk’s singing goes, she doesn’t vary much from her usual singing style, and fans of hers will certainly like it. There are a couple of songs which sound like children’s songs, like the title track (“gling-gló” evidently is “ding-dong” in Icelandic), and these are the ones i like the best, actually. To my ears, unfortunately, she is not really in her element here. Björk is a really unique singer and highly creative artist. On this album, by trying to fit into this lounge jazz setting, I find that she dampens the very things that make her singing interesting, both in the Sugarcubes and on her subsequent solo career. Subsequent to this she would embark on a solo career & would make a number of daring & experimental albums, which I personally find much more interesting than this one. Now if she were to do a project with more experimental jazz musicians, that might be a better opportunity to showcase her talents. 
So in a nutshell, I think serious Björk fans will appreciate this album, but for me it’s not more than a curiosity. It’s certainly not a bad album in any way, but it just doesn’t really grab my attention.