GusGus 24/7

[Kompakt; 2009]

Styles: electro, house, techno
Others: Moloko, Hypnogaja

There’s something really endearing about artists who don’t speak English very well but still try hard to get a grasp on the language’s linguistic intricacies. For example, this line from “On the Job,” the third song on Icelandic electro group GusGus’s latest album, 24/7: “I wanna make you happy cause I like you a lot/ I know it’s kind of whacky, but I like you a lot.” See what I mean? There’s a real teddy bear vibe here, made even more touching by the band’s whole dark-ambient-disco thing. Still, it’s a stupid lyric, regardless of sentiment, and lyrics like “I’m feeling hateful because you piss me off and I want to hurt you I want to make you suffer,” from “Hateful,” seem to balance out any good vibrations the band sends out. “If you can’t tolerate my kind, you can kiss my fucking ass!” Now is that any way to speak to your dear listener, GusGus?

Why put so much stock in the group’s words? This is an Icelandic techno group after all. Well, unfortunately, it’s because they do. The group is at their strongest going off on long, meditative tangents of minimalist techno, but too often GusGus obscures their instrumental prowess with lyrical absurdity. The album’s only instrumental track, “Bremen Cowboy,” is the strongest moment here — a horrifyingly dark eight minutes that are nothing less than cinematic in scope. The influence is explicit: with its slow-building tension and frequent climactic bursts of energy, “Brewen Cowboy” is most certainly influenced by 80s sci-fi soundtracks, Blade Runner especially.

This makes sense. GusGus formed as a cinema collective in 1995 by filmmakers Stefán Árni and Siggi Kjartansson. The group eventually expanded to include singer/songwriter Daníel Ágüst (a former actor), programmer Biggi Veira, and President Bongo. The group, now reduced to the latter three members, has always combined a certain degree of cinematic performance with their music, but that method works best when the music is given precedence over performativity.

The almost 12-minute closer, “Add This Song,” explores this tension, mostly successfully. It begins with two minutes of senseless singing — “Add this song to your list/ Play it til it no more exists” — before making up for all that senselessness with an exploratory, adventurous reinterpretation of drum n bass music. This last half of 24/7 — “Brewen Cowboy” and “Add This Song” — make up the bulk of the album’s appeal. It’s almost enough to forget the hilarious failures of “On the Job” and “Hateful,” with its climactic announcement, “If I can’t find love, I guess I’ll hate. Feeling so-oo-o hateful.” Almost enough. Such sentiment is not easy to forget, or forgive.

1. Thin Ice
2. Hateful
3. On The Job
4. Take Me Baby
5. Bremen Cowboy
6. Add This Song

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