Mugimama! Is This Monkeymusic?
According to the CIA website (and they would know) the whole of Iceland has a population of 296,737, which is a startlingly low number given the stream of art and music and whatnot that comes off that little Viking marketing ploy (compare magical dewy Iceland and even-inhospitable-to-Yeti Greenland). I wonder if the percentage of Icelanders that check off the "Quirky Pop Star" box on their taxes is reaching the double digits? I wonder if they have a credit union? Either its tax incentives or some elfin mineral in the spring water, but they have the the highest cool music per capita rating over anyplace in history except for maybe Clarksdale, MS in the 20's.
Fighting the throngs at the vintage synthesizer shops that I imagine dot every corner like newsstands in equally imagined NYC is a self-taught former fisherman and stockbroker's aide Mugison, who after finding his fortune on the tuna boats off the icy Atlantic, moved to town and bought a guitar and a wheelbarrow of CD's and embarked on the noble Journey of creating some wonderfully weird music. Mugimama! Is This Monkeymusic? is his second CD (that I know of) and continue a trajectory of some truly damaged pop. His upfront grunting croon is similar to that of the guy from Frog Eyes, but instead of his frenetic pace, Mugison's songs are a heartfelt and outsider-honest as the crazy magic marker drawings on the cover. The monkey music commences with "I Want You," thankfully reclaiming that perfect title from bloated albatrosses by Elvis Costello and the Beatles, lurching to and fro, with a percussive style a love child of i-just-bought-my-first-drum set and drunk careening through a china shop, the guitar keeping a loping pace and every once in a while, emitting a dead on wail. In other words, brilliant.
Piano and tape slippage provide the Dramamine into of "The Chicken Song" but none of this comes off as lo-fi gimmick, but as the hand-crafted method to his madness. And this song is a torchy blues actually about chickens. Scintillating off-kilter stuff. There is a heaviness to the music, whether due to the female spoken word and strings of "Salt," the plaintive acoustic duet "2 Birds" or the panicked Jon Spencer on bathtub mescaline romp "Sad as a Truck" - there is a purpose to this mania that pushes it beyond outsider curiosity. In fact, upon giving it a closer listen "2 Birds" is one beautiful song, a Will Oldham-like slow burner augmented by ambient water sounds and a mosquito slide guitar.
Another great number of this odd little record is "What I would Say at Your Funiral (sic)" a piano and shuffling snare duet where Mugi's voice is given the greatest range even though the push pull of the production makes this sound l more like you are hallucinating it rather than listening to it. In fact, the production magic (hallmark of Ipecac recordings) might be the thing that grabs you at first, but its the slow songs mentioned above and the thankfully straightforward "I'd Ask" and the funky coffeehouse stomp of "MRR MRR" are the keepers. The final tracks, the elegiac "Hold on 2 Happiness" and the epic-near silent "Afi Minn" take us out in a haphazard Guided-by-Voices kinda way, weird as it came in, but the good stuff on this craziness-with-anchovies pizza of a record is the meat, not the crust or the toppings. A baffling yet ultimately rewarding listen, kind like Smog was in the beginning before he went all normal on us.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com