Published September 1, 2015
On Grísalappalísa’s debut album ‘Ali’, there’s a line in “Lóan er komin” where singer Baldur Baldursson growls, “Thoroughly thought out/Much practiced/Stolen from here or there/Don’t expect that I take responsibility or remember where it came from” (translation mine). As a lyric-asM.O., it pretty much declares the band’s ethos as pop-art postmodern rockers. While many local acts try to retain a pastiche of purity in intent and form, Grísalappalísa pick and choose musical styles and clichés as they please, retaining a high level of camp and piss-taking that hides an acerbic centre. Grísalappalísa, like many Icelandic acts, hold a dear love for the music of the past, a love evident in their 7” series of covers of Icelandic musical totems such as Megas and Stuðmenn. But while ‘Ali’ had a distinctly post-punk framework, ‘Rökrétt framhald’ sees Grísalappalísa travelling further back into the past of rock’s back pages. The opening salvo of “Sambýlismannablús” and “Allt má (má út) II: Íslands er lag” sees the strident, fingerjabbing intensity replaced by a loose, glam groove as they morph into what can effectively be described as Roxy Music jamming with Can while drunk on Brennivín. Meanwhile, the sleazy Benzedrine stomp of “ABC” recalls the likes of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The album’s production also displays a growing evolution of their sound from the rawness of ‘Ali.’ The recording/production work of guitarist Albert Finnbogason reveals a lot of deft touches and overdubs, including a guitar chop on “Tík” and a cheering crowd of children and jungle sounds on “Þurz.” They also break out the string sections to good effect on “Flýja” and “Sá mig í spegli (Káinn).”
While ‘Ali’ was a concept album of morbid fetishism and self-obsession centered around a woman named Lísa, the lyrical themes of ‘Rökrétt framhald’ are a more diffused, personal affair. Songs about the odd-couple relationship with your flatmate (“Sambýlismannablús”), thinking about love and lust while kneading pizza dough (“Tík”) and paying attention to the life lessons your parents gave you (“Þurz”) are meshed with lyrical references to old Icelandic songs, such as Súkkat’s “Vont en það venst” and “Nóttin.” But there is a strong swell of bitterness and exhaustion lurking underneath the musical energy. On “Allt má (má út) II: Íslands er lag,” Gunnar Ragnarsson mews, “I drink the moonshine/Sleep in and ‘snooze’ the problem/ What’s so exciting on the other side of life/ Is it the blue expanse?” (translation mine). On “Vonin blíð,” Gunnar daydreams of a fantasy scenario of tropical climbs and “Campari sunsets” with a loved one, but feels uneasy at the realisation that this love has been lost for good. And “Melankólía” is a song that does what it says on the tin, a dirge of torpor where the unhappiness is embellished by a rickety tune performed by the band swapping their instruments. By the time we reach “Sá mig í spegli (Káinn)” with an emotional coda provided by the 19th Century poet Káinn, the mood has spiralled from exuberance to a curdled downer.
‘Rökrétt framhald’ is an album that sees Grísalappalísa’s wannabe street toughs graduate from young party boys to louche self-consciousness, the musical strutting, glitter and smeared make-up covering a romantic gloom and weary pallor. It’s a road in pop and rock history that has been well travelled (see that Roxy Music comparison again), yet is still relevant to many introspective twenty-somethings who find the good times beginning to pale.
As such, on the first listen, ‘Rökrétt framhald’ doesn’t have the bluff and bluster of Grísalappalísa’s debut album, which may cause you to think that they’ve run out of steam. But it requires several listens for the little depths to be pondered and savoured. It needs to grow on you for its true colours to be revealed. And while the incessant hype train of Iceland’s culture industry may have moved on to other fresh meat, these guys are going to be around for a long while yet.