Mammút

Icelandic bands often resemble a force of nature, and Mammút are no exception. What’s more, the quintet’s spectacular new album Kinder Versions is exactly the kind of volcanic presence that is sorely lacking in 21st century rock, likewise their unpredictable and uncategorisable shape-shifting sound, like a very modern twist on psychedelia.

Mammút is Icelandic for ‘mammoth’ – the name that singer Kata Mogensen, “plucked out of the air,” when she joined guitarists Alexandra Baldursdóttir and Arnar Pétursson, bassist Ása Dýradóttir and drummer Andri Bjartur Jakobsson for their stage debut,aged just 14. Kata is the daughter of bassist Birgir Mogensen, a former bandmate of Björk back when they were young post-punk adventurers, a questing spirit that Mammút have also unconsciously adopted, though without ever discussing what kind of music they’d play. “We’re so close as a band, we have no limits for each other, no boundaries, we just follow our gut instincts,” says Kata.

It’s worked from the off: they quickly won the Músiktilraunir ‘battle of the bands’ and thereafter nominations and awards at different Icelandic Music Awards: their third album Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir won three of its eight nominations in 2014, including Album (Pop & Rock) and Song (Pop & Rock) for their epically slowburning single ‘Salt’. And with vocalist Kata Mogensen now singing in English, there’s a chance much more of the planet will discover what their homeland has known for a while.

Having worked with various Icelandic labels, Mammút’s signing to Bella Union is part of their plan to expand horizons. “It was never a decision to sing in Icelandic, it came out naturally when I wrote,” Kata explains. “But there are so few venues in Iceland, and we crave to move further. Singing in an international language opens the door – it means that people can understand not just the feeling in the vocals, but the words too, when I’m singing my heart out.”

Kinder Versions’ intense character is obvious from the get-go, with opening tracks ‘We Tried Love’ and the title track the album’s two longest, at over seven and six minutes respectively, embodying everything that is thrilling about Mammút’s ebbing and flowing dynamic. “With those lyrics and the soundscape, those songs had to be the introduction,” Kata vouches. “And with [the sparser, gentler] ‘Bye Bye’ following, it’s the most honest way into the album.”

The exact meaning behind the title Kinder Versions and its’ lyrics will remain a mystery for now. “There’s a storyline to the album, which I can’t fully figure out yet; it’s too soon,” Kata vouches. “But the title is one side of a bigger story, a kinder version of something else, a situation. I’d like people to play around with the idea, if they’re interested!”

Mammút’s shows at this winter’s Icelandic Airwaves festival solicited rave reviews from The Arts Desk – “Hard-edged, rocky, circular songs with folky, spiritual melodies… Unreservedly fantastic” – and Rolling Stone, which referred to Kata’s “icy, piercing vengeance” and the music’s “arena-worthy, shamanistic hard rock,” and concluded, “Now I know they are ready for the world.”

“We’ve never been in a hurry, we’ve all done our studies while we’ve been in the band, and we have never made plans,” Kata declares. “But the band is what we love the most. Now the wheel is turning, and new challenges have developed. Let’s see wherever it goes.”

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Bernard + Edith

Fellow Manchester-based artist Jamie Lee of the band MONEY has penned the below idiosyncratic bio-cum-tribute to Bernard + Edith:

“Perhaps Bernard and Edith would think that what I’m about to say is going too far. But I remember drinking with vocalist Edith in a bar in Manchester and talking about how her and Bernard come to creating their songs. Edith observed: “Rather than say ‘let’s go out’ or ‘let’s watch TV’ I say, ‘should we make a cheeky song?’ And he says ‘Alright then’.” And that laughter I’ve come to know so well erupts from her maniacally, childishly, freely.

Edith’s singing style reminds me of the kind of emancipatory freedom of the modern American school of writing. Her melodies are uninhibited by traditional rules of structure – she moves where and when she feels the impulse to; and knowing the woman behind the voice I see that the impulse in her can be as chaotic as it is beguiling. She is like a bouquet balanced precariously on the edge of a table unsure of whether it will fall and break – hinged between extreme goodness and feeling on the one hand and on the other, chaos and perhaps even madness. Lyrically, again, the comparison is relevant: “cos poppy says she loves me and I’m feeling right” is as naked, unpretentious and brave as the revolutionary poet Robert Lowell’s assertion; “why not say what happened?” that triggered his confessional movement producing and influencing writers from Sylvia Plath to Anne Sexton – a place where the uncompromisingly personal and high-art met in the middle. This applies to Bernard and Edith too. A place explored by Daniel Johnston and Arthur Russell – it is the artful balance between a highly private expression and having the skill and intelligence to communicate that to the world. It is testing the limits of what a person can say within their art but  also lends a universality to their language and style. Having mentioned these artists, there is clearly a strongly cathartic drive to why Bernard and Edith even exist at all – it is art being made for the right reasons – for the love of it! It is esoteric but never indulgent, original but not reactionary or avant-garde, otherworldly but unpretentious.

It is my belief that whatever art is, it is the direct opposite of whatever money is. It is made by the maker to save oneself briefly from the inevitable and in doing so (where the craft comes in) may end up saving other people briefly too. Bernard + Edith make their music from home and (I cannot help but feel) predominantly for each other – a kind of covenant to their particular and special bond.”

Inventions

INVENTIONS are the collaborative sum of longtime friends Matthew Cooper of Eluvium, and Mark T. Smith of Explosions In The Sky. Their 2013 eponymous debut album introduced an ambition to create music that was both challenging and comforting.

Their new album, Maze of Woods, opens with a vocal sample declaring, “I wanted to do something that I don’t know how to do.” Using this as a mission statement, Inventions have crafted a complex and exuberant album from an array of instruments, samples, found sounds, beats, chants, and raw bursts of noise, with a much greater emphasis on strong vocal accompaniment in every song.

Two albums released in the span of 10 months speaks to the drive that these two have felt since they started playing together. Much like on the first record, they again mixed the album in a house on the Oregon coastline, with final mixing and production all done by Smith and Cooper.

Inventions have stated that much of the inspiration for Maze of Woods comes from the closing paragraph of Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams. In that paragraph, Johnson describes the non-verbal howl of a feral wolf boy, a pre-language that is yearning and instinctual; a statement of wordless distress and love. Maze of Woods is the product of two masters of their craft getting lost in the wilderness, “doing something that they don’t know how to do,” and emerging with something wholly unexpected and beguilingly beautiful.

Maze of Woods will be released 16th March on Bella Union.

2:54

The Other I, the second album from 2:54, was released 10th November 2014 on Bella Union.

Even before Colette and Hannah Thurlow wrote their new album, the London-based sisters’ atmospheric, imaginative and thrilling vein of rock music under the name 2:54 was already a force to be reckoned with. But the events that tested their commitment and resilience have upped the ante, to produce the magnificent drama and beauty of The Other I. From the expansive, tempo-shifting opener ‘Orion’, and the pining roots of ‘The Monaco’ to the ambient haunts of ‘Tender Shoots’ and the shape-shifting tour de force of ‘Raptor’, the album significantly widens the net beyond the achievements of 2:54’s self-titled debut. The Other I is all the stronger for Hannah and Colette’s hands-on approach to production while Colette’s lead vocals show a striking versatility. The album’s emotional terrain has been carved from circumstances out of their control but equally their sisterly bond.

As Colette explains, the album’s title was inspired by a favourite poet, Percy Shelley, “a rousing romantic, politically charged, a proto-punk of sorts. He called his friend and muse Elizabeth Hitchener the ‘sister of my soul, my second self.’ These lines kept returning to me last year and from there I arrived at ‘The Other I’. The Other I is an enquiry into the duality of the human experience – the division between the self that pounds on like a juggernaut in your head, and the self you present to the world. The idea extends to Hannah and I, to our sisterhood. We know intrinsically what the other thinks and feels, music is just another language we use to communicate.”

Written in Paris and London, the album was recorded at Bella Union’s East London studio before the Thurlows and Alex Robins decamped to North London’s Fish Factory to complete it alongside co-producer and mixer James Rutledge, who’s worked with the likes of Radiohead and Fever Ray. ‘In The Mirror’ and ‘Sleepwalker’ are cited as key entry points to the album’s core values, while lyrically ‘Orion’ sets the scene for the album’s adventures. ‘Raptor’ is the album’s brilliant finale, with its simmering intro, hypnotic flow, thrilling coda and rallying mantra: “Calling, I’m calling, I’m calling, I can hear it / You don’t know us / One more turn and then I’ll go / The end, the end, the end is close.” 

Electric Würms

ELECTRIC WÜRMS, is the side-project of Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, whose debut abum Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk was released 18th August 2014.

It all began in the 70s when someone invented the right kind of acid that could make you fly! It seemed that everything was, at last, possible. And the overly optimistic freaks of the day began flying into outer space. They flew in spaceships that were, at first, made of futuristic super metal but before too long they didn’t even NEED ships. They BECAME the ships and they called themselves Electric Würms. I think because they became just bolts of electrified electricity that could penetrate wormholes in the far reaches of the unknown heaven.

And before they died they sent back to earth beings a sonic bible of discoveries and failures. It  was, until now, a strange unsolvable mystery of frequencies and rhythms. Two groups of determined musicians and weirdo thinkers set forth to decipher its message. Two members of The Flaming Lips (Steven and Wayne) and four members of Linear Downfall (Charlee, Chance, Doom and Will) were the chosen ones.

What you have is the first of what could be endless communicated sound stories. It is titled Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk, which predicted this modern day dance move by almost forty years ago. Some of it is indeed hard to twerk to but some of it, if I could do it, is not. There is a particular track called Transform!!! that closely resembles a drug fuelled boogie freak rock track by Miles Davis. Another verse Heart Of The Sunrise sounds vaguely like a song by the prog folk group Yes. Of course Yes also turned themselves into space ships so it’s no wonder these songs share a similar vibe.

The ensemble leans toward a hypnotic mood for most of the space bible readings. It is a scary truth that we are hearing and then forced to ponder. The pulsating poem Living states… “live as if you were living already for the second time. And that you had acted wrong the first time”. So they call themselves Electric Würms after the greatest of the super freaks. But they are not a super-group. They are like Sherpas climbing with you. To help you. To love you. All the secrets that they know they tell you. That’s what love is.