With the rise in popularity of several Icelandic bands over the course of the past year, I (like many) were left wondering just what's up with the small island. Although Björk made the island more of a namesake, GusGus grabbed a couple headlines before Sigur Ros came along and made nearly everyone's album ending list last year and now Múm is starting to gain some attention as well. It's not as if there's been a sudden upspring of music, though, as different artists within the country have been flourishing, it's just that being heard outside their homelands has been more of a problem until a group like Sigur Ros rose into the spotlight, giving a renewed outside interest in music of the region.
Nart Nibbles is 2CDs, and just about 100 minutes of improvised music on the Kitchen Motors label, featuring some of the biggest names in Icelandic avant garde, as well as many musicians mentioned above (although sadly no Björk). Having released a couple entries in the collaborative Motorlab series, Kitchen Motors is again carving out an interesting niche in this release. Although there are only 9 tracks (including several longer pieces) on the two discs, there are absolutely tons of different styles represented. It's a musical mish-mash that runs between drone, electronic, experimental, and even a touch of death metal.
Because of the tracklisting printed on the case and the information inside the booklet, it's a little hard to pick out who did what (my only guess is that things are sequenced differently than listed), as only the first and last tracks seem to have the correct information (or perhaps it's just a ploy to throw everyone off). At any rate, the disc opens up with an almost 9 minute track by the Apparat Organ Quartet entitled "Nafnlaust Uppklapp." As their name may suggest, the group is comprised of four organists arranged in a square facing one another, and the track ranges between layered drones and tick-tocky melodies. From there, the disc goes into more droning territory, only this time it's two guitars (sprinkled with sonar pings and pretty lapsteel) played by Pétur Hallgrimsson and Hilmar Jensson.
If you can get past the beginning high frequency feedback, Big Band Brutal greets you with a pummeling electronic/rock hybrid of heaving synths and frantic drumming. That hardcore I mentioned above comes in the form of the group Spennuveldið and their absolutely bizarre hybrid of metal and electronics that sounds like the Fucking Champs on crack. The first disc closes out with a happy little epic track by Múm and Músikvatur entitled "þurrki þurrk" that sounds somewhat like a track of the former group, but with slightly more childlike abandon.
The second disc is primarily made up of the nearly 30-minute long piece "Helvitis Symphony no. 1 for 13 Electric Guitars." Despite the title that may lead you to believe this would be something thunderous, it's actually more of a minimal piece, with different guitars (some played by members of Sigur Ros) drifting in and out and weaving some gentle melodies. It does reach somewhat of a screeching crescendo towards the closing, right before it cuts out to nothing, but even that isn't thunderous by any means. The second piece on the disc "Hylur," blends some creepy drones with a clicking rhythm over which prepared guitar is added. Although it's another quiet, subtle piece (until the end, when it breaks out into a gurgling, bubbling frenzy), it's one of the most interesting on the two discs despite its long length.
Basically, if you're looking for music that sounds like some of the groups who are featured on the release, you're probably not going to find it. As mentioned above, the performances are largely improvised, and while some of them work amazingly, some of them sort of fail to take off. Such is the case with most spontaneous collaborations, though, and if one had the chance to see the pieces actually performed live, it would probably take on a whole new meaning. As it stands, there's definitely some interesting material, and at the bargain price it's being listed at, you're probably not going to go wrong if you're a fan of experimental music.