Published January 13, 2006
Hairdoctor snuck up on us—known more for their hairdressing and DJing at Sirkus bar, they seemed to be taking advantage of the good will they’d built up when they got onto the big stage at this year’s Iceland Airwaves Festival. The album they released shortly after their gig, Shampoo, demonstrates that these slacker posers have the most mature and original sound to come out of Iceland in 2005. Two things strike you, if you get through the album one time: the production value is heavy but authentic—like what Beck wanted to do when he first started, only with a little more competence; and the vocals are quirky but not cute. On repeated listenings, you’ll realise how perfectly minimal the vocals and guitar lines are—layered as they are above the ridiculously adept rhythms previously mentioned. In the end, you get an album that keeps you moving, keeps you thinking and doesn’t feel, in the slightest, forced.
In addition to the album Shampoo, the production mind behind Hairdoctor, Plúseinn (Plus One), released a series of Christmas songs on the Hairdoctor website. With help from Óttarr Proppé, Hugleikur Dagsson and Gísli Galdur, the 23 free MP3s complement the album well. (www.hairdoctormusic.com/jola.htm)
Babyshambles: Down in Albion
Since I saw Babyshambles in Oslo last summer, I’ve been curious as to how, in all the mentions of Pete Doherty in the British Yellow Press—and I throw any and all culture magazines into the fold here– over the last two years, nobody could have observed that the man is rewriting British pop into something actually worth the price of the CD.
Down in Albion, the Babyshambles panned first-release, is not pure gold… it is something better. It is an album of pop rock that sounds nothing like what’s on the radio—typically only one clear guitar and bass, not the everybody-and-their-neighbour-should-be-overdriven-on-this-track style of most pop, no vocal line-tracing lead, (mercifully, Doherty shed both of these hallmarks of crap pop when he stepped away from the Libertines, his infantile launching pad) no friggin high hat (just to remind you again that Franz Ferdinand is at the top of the charts, and four months from now you’ll hate yourselves for ever listening to them).
Instead you get vocal lines that push away from the obvious melody—like Morrissey if he had a sex drive; and you get lyrics that keep the self-obsession that is in the air of all pop music, but that is more self-aware, more humorous, and seems to have a great deal more at stake. With one or two exceptions, especially when Pete strays too far into reggae, or when he loans the mic to the man who protected him in prison for a full track, the songs on Down in Albion are as exciting as rock gets. Put together, they make for a landmark album, one that much better for how poorly received it has been by his own countrymen.
Am I Brit-bashing? True, I find most critics in England to be wannabes who turn to a stereotype and a tired metaphor before turning on their damned CD players, and the number of times they reply on sheer gossip and hearsay would make Rupert Murdoch blanch. But I acknowledge the Brits have often discovered the best in Icelandic music—and for that matter American music—in the past: they proudly heralded The Sugarcubes and Sigur Rós, to say nothing of essentially saving American blues and the whole discovering Bob Dylan thing. (The recent documentary No Direction Home paints a nasty picture of their turn on him, but to be fair, before 1966 and since, England has been good to the bard of the Midwest.)
So the British press can be world class, and they have done good things. It’s just, at present, they are incapable of doing anything right. Perhaps when music fans force them to listen to bands they casually dismissed in the search for the next Arctic Monkeys, they will catch on and apologise.