From Iceland — Sódóma - Thursday

Sódóma – Thursday

Published October 16, 2009

What‘s the deal with Soundspell’s singer‘s weird pantomime
guitar move? Soundspell were very ‘cutting edge’ and ‘experimental’,
but I won’t hold that against them. They were quite innovative, in
their own oblivious way, and the fact that they managed to make their
kind of music interesting to watch is pretty remarkable. Cool.
After Króna’s incomprehensibly dull indie rock, Leaves
sickeningly wet melodrama was fairly welcome, their obnoxious announcer
notwithstanding. They were Leaves, through and through, consummate
professionalism, initially at the cost of any entertainment value, but
after the singer had adjusted his earpiece and everybody had tuned
their guitars about eighteen times, they were depth incarnate, reaching
for a scant few moments the massive apocalyptic glory they so excel at.
And those moments, by the way, were pure gold, extraordinary
exploitations of every musical and technical element available to them.
I think it’s just people’s general impatience with their perfectionism
that’s giving them a bad name. That, and the fact that the people that
do like them are the least fun people imaginable. I’ve never seen a
full house stand so still.   
Anatomy of a great song: The elements are all in place; adventurous,
cyclical drums, the random, innocently intertwining guitars, and the
massive centrepiece of it all: those stunning, soul-searing,
heart-puncturing vocals, almost feral in their audacity and hunger… Mammút‘s
Rauðilækur is a great song, the best Icelandic rock song for years, and
seeing it live is something I feel I might tell my grandchildren I did
when trying to prove to them I used to be cool. It’s the kind of
brilliant little song that happens by accident, amateurs stumbling upon
the set of hooks and chord progressions so often used, that reusing
them isn’t plagiarism, it’s daring.   
KidCrash looked – and sounded – very, very, American. Stateside
garage rock has also come to have its own charm to me, and while it
isn’t terribly exciting, it is uniquely satisfying. There is also a
proud tradition of whole-heartedly welcoming foreign bands to Iceland,
a tradition the grey-haired, hunchbacked old man inside of me feels
obligated to uphold. They very much meant what they did, and while that
may not be enough generally speaking, but it was more than enough that
night at a bar in downtown Reykjavík. They fkn rocked. Sailor and Lula
would have danced to them.
Oh yes. And then Who Knew played.
Their drunken binge anthems were just coherent enough to impress the
wanton crowd, but I was only slightly drunk, and felt obligated to pay
special attention to them, and, more importantly, their music. I was
entertained in a schlocky, soccer-match kind of way, and I began to
wonder if the guys in Who Knew really wanted to make the kind of music
they’re making, or if they were just ‘selling out’.
Now, by ‘selling out’, I mean making music they regard as popular as
opposed to what comes from within them, which isn’t necessarily a bad
thing. I mean, is it so bad to aspire to be liked, above all else? And
besides, I’m not even really calling Who Knew sell-outs. It’s quite
possible that this music comes deep from within their hearts, that
these are the songs they hear when they go to sleep, or they imagine
the movie based on their lives being set to. But I’m just wondering:
does that make them terrible people? Which is truly worse, to aspire to
write shallow, witless pop anthems for the sheer sake of popularity, or
to truly want to inflict this music upon the world?
But I’m out of line here. I’ve never sought to judge anyone by the art
they make, I’m just questioning if this is really art. If it is an art
to successfully manipulate people’s feeling into liking a song with
insipid gimmickry and gang vocals, then I might be able to classify Who
Knew as musicians, and this might well and truly be an art. Pop
songwriting has proven itself to be an art of late, in many ways.
But I don’t even know if Who Knew’s music can be classified as pop
songwriting, or even songwriting in general. Just stringing together
random illiterate sing-along just isn’t… wait, who am I kidding,
that’s existed since the dawn of time, and was called songwriting long
before Mozart’s time.
So Who Knew’s songs are a tradition that has been with human beings as
long, and in much the same way, as prostitution and dung gathering, and
rather like the sorry social tradition I have of being grateful to
foreign bands playing in Iceland, but it doesn’t matter how many cute
guitar lines they play or shirts they take of, they will still never
ever write a song, in the sense that Rauðilækur is a song. As
imperfect, clichéd and infantile as it is, that one Mammút song
outshone the whole of Who Knew’s set that evening, and for that matter
everyone else’s.

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