Thursday, September 1, 2011


"Arabian Horse" - Gus Gus

If Björk is the queen and Sigur Rós are kings, then Gus Gus are definitely the dark princes of Icelandic experimental pop scene. This Reykjavík based art-collective-turned-band with an ever-changing line-up, has been pleasuring more demanding ears with mysterious, withdrawn and eerie club music for way over a decade now. After 15 years of perfecting their mixture of electronica and dark, haunting melodies Gus Gus still remain overlooked and criminally underrated, only known to an elite of listeners. Whether it's their take on post-trip-hop chill (look up “Superhuman”) or dancefloor anthem (the mighty “David”) it's always a hit, never a miss. Gus Gus deserves more recognition like no other Scandinavian group and as much I'd like to stay in this elitist club, I hope this album will bring them the commercial breakthrough they deserve. The faithful fans get a real treat here, despite the fact of more regular format of it. No lengthy, bass heavy tracks here, like on their previous effort, the enigmatic and hypnotic “24/7”, which carried some of concept album qualities. “Arabian Horse” sees further abandonment of their gritty, trippy house style for the pulsing, minimal techno beats full of smoke, volcanic dust and glacial snowstorms.

The album unleashes its force with the digital thunderstorm of “Selfoss”, one of the best instrumental tracks I have heard since Röyksopp's “The Drug”. It's severe and gloomy. The tension builds up for the first half of the track until the point when the sonic waves pass like an apocalyptic, yet cathartic, force of nature and leave us nearly deaf as the dust, the smoke and the snow settle. The following “Be with me” unveils album's reality of the haunting melodies against the economic techno beats that make sound “Arabian Horse” so matte and gray. I might be writing these under the influence by the striking image of the infuriated stallion on the album's cover. The hypnotic “Deep inside” throws in more trance synths that lower the gloomy clouds of ash gathering and constantly hovering over this long player. The club ready “Over” is Gus Gus' murky take on disco. The effect? A stripped down soul of the 21st century clubland. Moody, smoky vocals poured over a steel progressive beats turn the track sound like something you wouldn't be able to confine within the walls of a club. “Over” takes it outside, onto the great Icelandic plains where the nature, the folk mysticism and the industrial infrastructure coexist. The images from Sigur Rós' stunningly shot and edited documentary, “Heima”, spring into mind while listening to the most parts of album. The deserted industrial buildings and steel constructions slowly digested by the rust and growing into the volcanic landscapes somehow would make a perfect dancefloor for this album. The sweaty title track brings us back inside, to another extreme of a claustrophobic space haunted by Daníel Ágúst's ghostly voice. The recurring accordion solos (in “Selfloss” and “Deep Inside”) seem to be a clear nod to Iceland's folk, mysticism and troublemaking nature. After this harshness of an album, we're being shipped off the island with “Benched”, a sentimental twin to the opening track. A soothing send-off.

Last year Gus Gus closed a long artistic period with the “15 Ára” compilation and now they've opened the next chapter with this near perfect production. “Arabian Horse” is a fantastic album and one of the best of all this year so far. The only sin of this release is its lack of diversity, which makes it hard to listen from the beginning to the end, without loosing the interest. Some tricks get repeated, coming back in the second part as a distant echo of the ideas from the side A. “Changes come” is forgettable, unnecessary even. That doesn't mean the quality drops drastically near the finishing line, but some songs differ from each other so little, circulating around the same formula and amid the homogenous sound. But given that nowadays it is very hard to find an album that is both diverse and perfect from the start to finish, “Arabian Horse” is above anything that came out lately. A monolith album that creates its own universe and another electronic ode to Iceland. The gray colour never sounded so good.


Piotrek Czarnecki