Review by John Short
Assigned by Dinar Khayrutdinov
So I was told by my dear friend Dinar that this Sheena Ringo lady is the Japanese Prince, and I have to say that after listening to this album I was highly disappointed. Not one single song on this album was about incest, bizarre and nonsensical spiritual/sexual themes, or fantasizing about changing genders and engaging in kinky lesbian sex with your girlfriedn. Well, not that I picked up on, but then I don’t speak Japanese, so perhaps it’s only natural.
The circumstances of this review (computer died in the middle of it and this is all roughly from memory of the sadly aborted first draft) make it hard for me to really recall what I originally thought about the album, but the gist of it was that cliche as this observation is, it reminded me a lot of Björk. This is a cop out I’ll admit- Björk has become a ubiquitous comparison for every female singer not in the Madonna vein ever since the late 90s at the very latest, but being compared to Björk is often a very good thing, and this is certainly the case here. Sheena Ringo clearly belongs to a very long tradition of talented Japanese women stretching back to luminaries such as Sei Shōnagon or Murasaki Shikibu. All and all I’m glad I listened to this, and that I finally know what dear Dinar is talking about, but I’m afraid this is the sort of thing I’ll have to give a lot more listens to to make any kind of definitive statement on it, and sadly at this particular juncture in my life I just don’t have the time for that.
Review by Dinar Khayrutdinov
Assigned by Nitay Shifroni
Well, this guy has to be the Israeli Nick Cave… or the Israeli Lou Reed… or someone similar in any case. I’ll get one thing out of the way – as much as I love Nick and Lou, I didn’t really enjoy Berry Sakharof much. Don’t get me wrong: this record sounds cool in a bleak mope-rocky kind of way, and the mood this album is aiming for is obviously emulated pretty well but overall I’m afraid I found it mostly generic-sounding, apart from a few interesting ideas here and there. The only track that really impressed me from start to finish was Im Hayiti, which, in my opinion, was the only instance on this album when Sakharof sounds fresh and original: the gloomy bass-guitar interplay here, the inventive production and the almost three dimensional, reverby, rich sound design reminds me of… Swans, of all bands (so yeah, the originality is still relative). Attempts are made later in the album to replicate this sort of apocalyptic, brutally grim and darkly beautiful soundscape, but these are often mixed with the singer churning out the lyrics in a singer-songwriterish way, which diluted the whole experience for me. Granted, I do not understand Hebrew, so maybe the lyrics are really great? Judging by the cover art, it might be some sort of a political message but how the heck should I know.
Anyway, to sum things up, this album uses gloomy production, bleak guitar tones and the singer’s world-weary voice to create a certain mood, but in ways that have been used in popular music much too often. I guess it’s not a bad album overall (lyrically it might even be a masterpiece for all I know) but I don’t really see myself ever returning to this because it’s just not that interesting musically for me.
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.