A new voice has emerged in Icelandic rock—it is loud, angry, literate and groovy.
Vocalists Gunnar Ragnarsson and Baldur Baldursson don’t sing as much as scream, rant, yelp and blurt out the lyrics, in exceptional Icelandic. Full of clever wordplay they are literate, yet trashy, poetic in a raw and unsophisticated way. You can hear traces of Megas (the band takes their name from one of his songs) and Einar Örn Benediktsson in the words, and a bit of David Byrne’s herky-jerky delivery and Ian Curtis’s detached baritone in the vocal performances.
The subject matter is a young man’s journey through his consciousness and Reykjavík nightlife, fraught with danger, self-doubt, desperation and illusions of sanity. A loose thread is the girl Lísa—who he yearns for and wants to be like—and who seems to be more like an ideal than an actual person. He numbs himself with alcohol and nights out on numerous occasions, as in “Allt má (má út)” (“Everything Is Allowed (Allowed To Be Erased).” The journey is chock full of references, from Jesus to Elvis to Icelandic national heritage.
The musical backing is an expertly produced rollercoaster ride of funky punk, krautrock and psychedelic slow jams. The bass is jogging, the guitars sting and come at you from unexpected directions and drums pound your inner ear with the force of a man-machine. Aside from the traditional rock instruments, they also have a saxophone player, which lifts songs like Skr‡tin birta (“Strange Lighting”) and Fjallkirkjan (“Mountain Church”) to another level. You can hear strains of Gang of Four’s nervy post punk in “Lóan er komin” (“The Plover Has Arrived”) and the grinding beat of Neu! in Kraut í G. The music sometimes underlines the unease of the words and at other times contradicts it, as in "Hver er ég" (“Who Am I?”), where Gunnar cheerfully yells: “I’m going to commit suicide! But fall asleep with the knife as usual!” to a backdrop of twee female backing singers’ lalala’s.
The band comes through as a fully formed entity on the album, a group that has studied their influences and has a clear direction. But it’s the lyrics that make them stand outside and above the box. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard such depth in discussion on the young male condition, and as much playfulness with the Icelandic language in rock music. Consider the scene stormed.
Grísalappalísa’s debut LP is a romper stomper of an album, a high-pitched scream of youthful existential male angst meditated through grooves, riffs and words. They lay it out sonically and lyrically in the opening song, aptly titled “Kraut í G” (a reference to krautrock and “Pop Song in G major”—a classic Icelandic pop hit). Starting with a motorik drum thump and angular guitar noises, a mood of anxiety is built before the desperate narrator screams into the void: “Infinite apartment blocks, infinite cars, infinite closed gates. How, how, how can I reach you?” A story slowly unravels through the course of the album, the tale of the narrator’s muse, object of obsession and, quite possibly, stalking material—a girl called Lísa. He describes seeing a light in her window and champagne glasses on the table but no one answering the doorbell.