Jakobínarína Debut "The First Crusade"
Written by Mike Walker
The dark and gritty north: Iceland punk's in season
Reviewers, like all journalists, are supposed to provide a disclaimer of conflicting interest whenever they have some connection with an act they are reviewing; you know, if they know the drummer or their wife works for the record company or whatever. I don’t have a direct connection with Jakobínarína at all, so I think I'm in the clear, but I have to admit I liked these guys the moment I heard about them. They’re a bouncy post-adolescent hardcore/new punk band from Hafnarfjörður, Iceland and as a Nordic kid myself that wins some major points. Their myspace photos overflow with giddy, good-natured fun and punk boredom and . . . and . . . their keyboardist even has a Clavia synth in one photo! So who are these kids from Iceland playing my favourite brand of keyboard? And does their music match up to their first impression?
I’m quite happy to report yes on all counts. Jakobínarína, on their album The First Crusade come off as fresh, fast, fun, and very serious about playing some good music while not taking it all too seriously. Another reviewer called them (in the best terms possible) ”adolescent wastrels” and that description certainly fits: the overall feel of First Crusade is that of a punk record, from the short songs, the tight, uncomplicated drumming, brash guitars, and lyrics along the line of ”forget the scripts, forget the lyrics”. Lead vocalist Gunnar Bergmann's a booming, somewhat gruff, vocal presence that at first seemed a little out of place for the type of music he's singing but grows on you quickly. His voice is one of those distinctive ones of punk such as Darby Crash’s of the Germs or Peter Cortner’s of Dag Nasty.
Beyond that, Bergmann reminds me a lot of the Scottish folk-rock band Runrig's lead vocalist in places and while Jakobínarína might seem about as far from Runrig as possible, they take some surprising musical directions here and there, such as the surf-thrash influences on End of Transmission No. 6 and touches that range from synth-pop-inspired solos and intros to Beach Boys-influenced harmony on choruses. In fact, on their MySpace page, the band cites so wide a range of musical influences including The Beach Boys and Madonna that you tend to think they're joking at first. After listening to their record, however, I think they are telling the truth. Like Peter Cortner-era Dag Nasty, they're fast and often cynical in their lyrics (check out the opening track, Monday I'm in Vain for a prime example) but also always upbeat and seemingly out to tilt at some windmills and overcome the evils of boredom whenever, wherever, however. There is no doubt that Jakobínarína will be listed by the music press as a neo-punk band, but they are clearly far more than that and really, a group that has grown up absorbing a wealth of influences and wound up creating music that bespeaks that varied background. Even with lyrics that tread the path of irony, heartbreak, and angst that are trademarks of young bands everywhere, these guys are doing things a bit differently.
It's always interesting to me how English is the default language of pop and rock and from a number of animé theme songs to an Icelandic punk band we have non-native speakers singing with good cheer and crafty lyrics in English. The Danish synth-pop band Nørdstrom is one exception I can think of where a major act decided to sing in their native language despite and obvious bid for Europe-wide stardom . . . even the Turkish pop prince Tarkan has taken (with rather sad results) to recording some songs in English. Jakobínarína of course sounds like bored, disaffected youth anywhere but at the same time, they really work their stylistics with language and lyrics into something consummate and engaging, just as their melodies are the same. There's definite craft here—look no further than songs such as Call for Advice and Sleeping in Seattle. In fact, Sleeping in Seattle is one of the deftest and most interesting songs I've heard in a long while, though it's one that grows on you and I don't know how good a single it would make. On the other hand, This is an Advertisment—with a title worthy of the Sex Pistols or Germs—is really a rather plodding and mundane song; like most young bands, Jakobínarína is at their best when writing and singing about their lives and the listless condition of modern youth than a topic such as corporate sponsorship that's been rather mined for all it's worth already.
One thing that really is outstanding on First Crusade is the use of keyboards, a wide sonic palate, and the combination of energy and discipline in how these songs are performed. Not a single track on this record sounds over-engineered or too forced into form for the studio, but they don't—with the exception of some vocals and what appear to be sampled sound effects—become muddy or wander out of control, either. Part of this is probably the intervention of seasoned producers and engineers, but I suspect the band themselves have a very clear idea of their directions. The presence of keyboards on what is for lack of a better term a punk album really furthers the depth of Jakobínarína's sound, also.
I suspect that the music press with play up Jakobínarína's Icelandic roots and their young age, plus the whole angle of their neo-punk sound. Fair enough, I've done all the above in this review myself, but I also hope that the sheer quality of this record isn't lost on anyone. Being from Iceland when you're a rock musician cannot be said to be a bad thing at all, but I hope these kids will be taken for more than just a new act from a novel place. In fact, Jakobínarína is building a strong following via touring the UK with gigs coming up all over England, Scotland, and Wales from September into October this year. By all accounts I've heard and from listening to the album itself, I'd wager these guys are very much worth seeing live. As for the album, for a first-out-the-gates by a young band? Very impressive work. A few complaints on the wisdom of certain lyrics and the sense of cluttered vocals here and there but far better writing and music than most bands working in this genre and a really unique sound overall. I think we'll being seeing a lot more of Jakobínarína in the future.
They have a nice website: www.jakobinarina.com
People in UK & Ireland can watch a MTV Spanking New Session @ www.mtv.co.uk/overdrive/spanking_new_sessions/id/61428/spanking_new_sessions__jakobinarina