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Some More Wacky Icelandic Types

This Is Normal
(4AD/Warner Brothers)

Two years ago, the nine-piece group burst onto the scene with an interesting debut album full of all kinds of different styles of electronic music. It was upbeat, moody, trancey, and dancy, all within the confines of 11 songs, and it not only made people wonder how in the hell their name was pronounced (for the record, I think it's "Goose-goose"), but how in the world another talented group besides Bjork could come from the small island of Iceland. Not only did the group create all the music, but they did all their own videos, album design, and most of the original artwork. Of course, a collection of nine film directors, musicians, graphic designers, and beatniks can do that sort of thing. The hardest part was probably working together and not breaking up.

Like almost all 4AD groups, Gusgus releases about 5 different singles for each album they have, and in the two year hiatus they dropped remixes galore and released the first single to the new disc about 2 months before the full-length dropped. If you've heard it (and you may have even if you didn't know it as it's now in a car commercial of some sort), you'll recognize that it's not only one of their catchiest releases to date, but also much more mainstream-sounding than anything off their previous release. "Ladyshave" starts out the album This Is Normal with a completely funky keyboard line and soon swerves in with a nice, agreeable beat. Daniel August (who took most of the lead male vocals on the last album) croons over the top of it all and the chorus has catchy dual vocals and just begs to be sung along with. Probably the coolest song on the album busts loose with track number two "Teenage Sensation." This time around, Hafdis Huld (the only female member, who unfortunately left the group soon after the albums release) takes vocal duties and provides beautiful, breathy (and amazingly sexy) vocals that float nicely over the darker, slithering track. After a fairly uninteresting track "Starlovers" (which sounds very similar to the later "Love vs Hate"), Huld is back on vocals and although the track doesn't do a whole lot interesting, her voice provides a nice highlight.

The group does their disco-house sort of thing on "Very Important People" and it almost sounds like something that Deee-Lite has done before with falsetto male vocals and funky little blips over a 4/4 beat. It's catchy fluff. Busting out of the mold a bit, the very next song "Bambi" is a very nice number that features August on vocals again, this time only accompanied by a stringed arrangement played by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. It's the first piece that really changes up things on the album (unlike their first disc when styles flipped nearly every song) and fortunately it continues into a very non-standard beat on the next song, "Snoozer." It's a quiet, yet lush track that's a nice break from the dancier early half of the album. The next song "Blue Milk" (which was featured in a very different, demo version on the 4AD Anakin sampler last year) moves along with a stuttering beat and very eerie sound washes, and features Huld on vocals again. The juxtoposition sounds a bit strange at first, but it actually starts to meld together after the first listen. The group goes back into a super-standard beat on the next track before the aforementioned "Love vs Hate" and the album closer "Dominique." The final song features yet another vocalist Magnus Jonsson (hey, they have nine people, might as well use them all) with a light falsetto over a very unobtrusive backdrop of electronic ebb and flow and some strings. It's a nice closer to the disc and something to take the spin off after the thumping second-to-last track.

Overall, the disc isn't quite as adventurous as their first disc Polydistortion, and it shows that the group is best when they're not trying to put together stuff to fuel the dancefloor. Their moody stuff is much more thought-out sounding, and although it's all well put-together, the four-on-the-floor tracks just don't do the vocals the justice that the other tracks do. It's a fairly decent disc, but not nearly as interesting as their debut release and it's kind of a shame to hear that such an awesome vocalist as Huld left the group. Even though their next album is still a long ways off, I'm sure they have some singles prepared.

Rating: 6.5