From Iceland — Better the Devil You Knew…

Better the Devil You Knew…

Published November 8, 2007

Better the Devil You Knew…

After the previous week’s hectic live music schedule around Reykjavík, having just a pair of bands on at Organ seemed almost a waste of time and space but thankfully at least one group more than made up for the lack of numbers with some memorable song writing and a performance that belied any festival hangover.

However, that band was not the evening’s opener, Jezebel. You can’t deny their smiling enthusiasm, neatly slotted together songs or carefully referenced 80’s guitar hooks, but the whole set just had a whiff of naff old eggs that wouldn’t go away. With so much going on, from the intro that sounded similar to Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ to the slow sleazed out electro with overtones of Daft Punk (particularly on ‘Shockwave’) interspersed with some shouty rapping, the whole project just didn’t quite hold together to produce a credible live performance and the crowd who weren’t familiar with their work stood around amused (or bemused) by it all.

This is a shame as the band has a notable and obvious talent for making music if they’re to be judged from the menagerie of styles and sounds used, but maybe it should be focused on other avenues that don’t mix Beastie Boys-style white homeboy rapping, 80’s cheeseball electro and a line in guitar solos that wouldn’t be out of place on the Top Gun soundtrack. Their influences might all be from the same decade but that doesn’t mean they should be stuck together 20 years later when nobody thought to try it first time round – there’s a reason that stone was left unturned.

Who Knew look so young you might refuse (rightly) to sell them a beer but one thing that became immediately obvious during their first few songs was that they don’t need alcohol to produce an outstanding performance. Mixing some tightly written and sung lyrics, with obvious vocal influences from Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and other similarly face-paced, falsettovoiced indie bands, they leapt about in a manner reminiscent of an early performance by The Libertines but the memory that remained after closing time was of a series of complicated-yet-catchy songs that were performed with gusto.

Like a vast number of new Icelandic bands Who Knew also threw in a liberal smattering of electronica but, in comparison to the medium’s overuse in Jezebel’s earlier performance, the keyboard in ‘Sharpen The Knife’ and the introduction to ‘Wallabe’ serve to add structure and depth to what are already very good tracks. In Jezebel the buttons over-ran everything and ran nothing. Less, in the case of Who Knew, is definitely more.

‘Wallabe’, ‘Mountains’, ‘Pagan Revolution’, ‘Please Don’t’ and ‘Sharpen The Knife’ are a set of songs with genuine longevity – most have enough complexity (listen to ‘Wallabe’s’ pleasingly gradual progression from keyboard solo to full-blown indie rock or the layers that build up to a glorious finale on ‘Sharpen The Knife’) and ambition to not prove tiresome after a dozen listens yet they’re simple enough to be exposed as great pieces of song writing when performed in the heady manner of Who Knew. Who’d have known that when they first walked on stage.

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