12. September 2008
Icelandic musicians are at inherent disadvantage among Western pop performers, what with the isolation, high cost of living, and a small population that need only generate 5,000 sales for a gold record. But as native son Örn Elías Guðmundsson- aka Mugison- illustrates, the country does yield one benefit for aspiring artists: really awesome locations for press-photo shoots. In his promo pics, we see Mugison variously riding horses in mountainous terrain, casually laying down on ice caps, and canoeing through rocky waterways dressed as a fish trapper-- no boring brick-wall backgrounds for this guy.
Based on these images alone, it's tempting to-- as we do with most Icelandic artists- interpret Mugison's music as a product of his home country's mysterious landscape (try Googling "Sigur Rós + glaciers") or rich folkloric tradition (ditto for "Björk + elf"). But on his madcap third album, Mugiboogie, the former laptop-tronic artist makes a case for an Icelandic pop music defined not by topography or mythology, but rather basic geography - in that his country's location puts him a in a fortuitous position to absorb the influence of American blues, British psych-folk and, when the mood strikes, Scandinavian black metal.
"Every performer is a preacher" Mugison sings on the solo acoustic blues of Mugiboogie's "The Pathetic Anthem", but his performance style is more informed by the notion that every preacher is a performer. Like the Veils' Finn Andrews - another artist whose recent output has betrayed a fascination with American Southern Baptist tradition - Mugison is not so much interested in the religiosity of the pulpit as the theatrics, because, as one song puts it, "Jesus is such a good name to moan". But Mugison's vigorous showmanship - effectively conjuring the writhing, sweaty-browed anguish of a man of the cloth who's been caught in a by-the-hour motel with his pants down - isn't always enough to elevate his songs beyond genre exercises; strip away his lusty growls and squeals, and the glammed-up stomp of the title track and the shuffling folk-funk of "To the Bone" aren't that far removed from standard-issue bar-rock.
Perhaps sensing a potential drift toward the middle of the road, Mugison spends the rest of Mugiboogie alternating between sharp rights and lefts, even going so far as to adopt a Cookie Monster growl on twin tribal-metal freak-outs "I'm Alright" and "Two Thumb Sucking Son of a Boyo" - both of which can be read as either the external manifestation of his preacher persona's inner demons, or just an easy way to endear himself to Ipecac boss Mike Patton. But he also reveals himself to be a Harry Nilsson-like pop maverick that, for all of Mugison's eager-to-please affectations, is ultimately his most naturally pleasing mode, as evinced by the falsettoed broom-swept barfly blues of "The Animal" or the glockenspieled lullaby "George Harrison", a heartfelt appeal to live by the late Beatle's example, complete with gently weeping guitar slides. However, it's the centerpiece orchestro-folk ballad "Deep Breathing" that truly rewards your humoring Mugison's various whims: it's a plea for patience that feels like an interior address to the singer's own scatterbrained psyche, his pulse calmed by a wondrous string arrangement that sends the song heavenward without overwhelming it - proof that Mugison need not act like a preacher to make you a believer.
Mugison @ http://www.mugison.com/ & www.myspace.com/mugison
Source: Pitchfork Media