Published September 11, 2014
Gusgus didn’t seem like a band that was in it for the long haul. Starting as a loosely strung collective of musicians, filmmakers, producers and vocalists, they seemed to the outsider like a mercurial proposition—a bubbling experimental formula with equal potential to expand, evaporate or explode. But after nine studio albums made over almost two dec-ades, Gusgus would be an essential inclusion on the Periodic Table of Icelandic Bands. They’ve not only continued, but thrived, recently coming into a run of form so rich as to become happily confounding.
Along the way, they’ve shed skins more times than an old corn snake, emerging each time in an incarnation more colourful than the last. Initially a sprawling twelve-person ambient-pop troupe, the band gradually reduced in number to just the duo of perma-members and production mainstays President Bongo and Biggi Veira around the turn of the millennium, before flowering once more into the slick and entertaining house-techno project of today.
‘24/7’ was the album that announced the band’s latest iteration—a pulsing, organic series of sensual anthems. Vocalist Daníel Ágúst rejoined, injected a sense of warm humanity onto a kinetic foundation of 4×4 rhythm, moving not just the audience’s feet, but their hearts too. The lush and luxuriant ‘Arabian Horse’ followed, refining the sound further and adding new personalities to the mix via a return of the breathy, feminine elegance of Earth and the arrival of the rich baritone of Högni Egilsson. And now, in what feels like the completion of a classic trilogy, comes the sticky heat of ‘Mexico.’
It’s an album brimming with earworm melodies from the outset. “Obnoxiously Sexual” is the opener—a perfect pop single, seductive and insistent, pulsing with bass and bristling with synth hooks. But when a string quartet and then a brass band swoop in out of nowhere to light up the track, it’s immediately obvious that ‘Mexico’ is something special. It’s not just a honed and crafted house-techno-pop record but a bold reworking of the Gusgus brand of dance music. ‘Mexico’ is accessible and commercial, sure, but the album’s assured, crafted and somewhat brazen party music also feels like a creative and artistic success.
It’s an album studded with singles—the simmering vocal of “Sustain” glides above persuasive micro-melodies; “Another Life” is a propulsive track fuelled by echoing string-stabs and some excellent treated vocals. “God Application” feels catchy and light, but lyrically explores the rich territory of relationship regret; “Crossfade” is a pop song so compulsive as to become an immediate obsession for many, spreading on social media faster than a video of a kitten in a shoebox.
Before its oddly muted final song, the album climaxes with “Not The First Time,” an epic track that talks about the need for continued evolution and renewal—perhaps the very thing that Gusgus do best. Due to their consistent creative mutation, the combustible chemistry of the project held together, maturing and stabilizing over time. They’re a band in fearsome shape and at the absolute top of their game—the elemental force they’ve become is something to behold.