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Thursaflokkurinn - Ţursabit CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.20 | 28 ratings

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5 stars 13.5/15P.: Not only the best Icelandic album, but also one of the most independent and most jazz/folk fusion fueled albums of all times

One year after recording their folksy debut album Hinn íslenzki Ţursaflokkur in the summer of 1978 the same-titled prog band from Iceland shortened their name to Ţursaflokkurinn (The Hobgoblins) and started going into a more progressive direction. Already in late 1978 the band recorded two live pieces that went in a more elaborated and experimental direction than their first effort, one of them the outstanding acoustic rocker Svifur uppá Silvurhimni with the probably strangest, but nonetheless catchy chord progression that I've listened to so far. One can find those pieces on the band's latest collection Okomin forneskjan.

But for the album Ţursabit ("lumbago") Égill Olafsson, the band's mastermind, lead singer, keyboarder and sometimes acoustic guitarist, composed and arranged 40 minutes of new songs - quite a short duration for ten songs, but the also short pieces (which last from 9 seconds on to 6 1/2 minutes) sometimes seem more diverse to me than many of the well-regarded prog longtracks (for instance by Focus) because Ţursaflokkurinn really get to the point. Most of the lyrics and also some melodies are taken from old Icelandic folklore, although Égill Ólafsson fathers the music and arrangement of the whole album and mainly thanks to him the LP is as great as it really is.

So, let's start ...

The album begins with Sigtryggur vann... [Sigtryggur works...] (which can be listened to in the PA), a short little ditty in which the band seems to ridicule ABBA in a Canterbury-esque manner. A voice commands, the band answers with acurate bashes in a totally odd time signature. Then, Ólafsson announces that Sigtryggur is working - or whatever it exactly means. It's a drag that the Icelandic translation webpages don't work that well! Afterwards a whispering Hammond organ, played by new organist Karl Sighvattson, and some quiet electric piano staccatos by Egill Olafsson fix the rhythm. A strange, twangy voice joins this keyboard background until the whole band plays along, creating a funny and perfectly played art pop piece with lots of ironic hooks resembling the upcoming disco/R&B music. The verses, however, are inspired by folk through and through - think it in 6/8 time, adapt the melody to the measure in your head and there you have it. Another highlight is the jazzy guitar solo at 1:38 with outstanding accompaniment. Pure Stratocaster bliss!

Next, the listener gets to hear traditional Icelandic wedding songs, consisting of a short a-capella prelude (Brúđkaupssálmur) and the catchy-rocking Brúđkaupsvísur, set to a fast-paced, rolling march rhythm, fiery organs and a highly rhythmic vocal track which sounds plain gorgeous in Icelandic language. The chorus rather paces into the folk roots again. From the middle until the end the band works out the song's melodies in an intriguing instrumental part which includes a frantic, jazzy interlude (with accompanying sounds of a wild Icelandic folk festival), an instrumental organ-dominated couplet and a crescending guitar solo in the very end. It is unbelievable how much prog and variety the band puts into a piece which hardly takes three minutes of time. Stunning all the way through!

The reversed-played guitar line XXX (originally a short lick coming from Frá Vesturheimi, the next but one piece) can be regarded as a the beginning for the ultimate stand-out track of the album, Ćri-Tobbi. It starts off with a shy electric piano line and discreet synthesizers. Later, the bands joins in with gambolling drums, a spitting electric guitar and counterpointing bassoons which segue into a short psychedelic rock section with driving drums and bass guitars. After a jazzy, wry part the band returns to the psychedelic rock genre, now with great vocals (somehow like Peter Schilling's "Major Tom", if you know this cool German new wave hit) and the vast guitar workouts of Ţordur Árnason who bends the strings even more heavily than Mike Oldfield: the 2008 live recording of this piece is even more stirring and sweeping. Menacing hobgoblin hexes introduce a guitar solo, accompanied by dissonant organ chord progressions. Ampimbamb og umbum, bumba öx indaela, skrúfara rúfara skrokkinn vaela, skrattinn má Ţeim dönsku haela, Ólafsson curses. I've got no idea what this shall mean, but it sounds absolutely famous. Then the band loses momentum in a hushed a-capella stanza before they get quicker gradually, then finishing the track with a reprise of the jazzy, wry part of the middle section. What a courageous tightrope walk between jazz-fusion/prog and psych rock, even facing the disco-like sound of the late 1970s instead of escaping to a retro sound. The jazz part is similar to Matching Mole's Part of the Dance riff, by the way.

Frá Vesturheimi [From the Western world?], the band's collective composition of the record, always reminds me of Soft Machine's Slightly All The Time which begins with a cool riff as well and later exploits jazz realms, in this case with a cool swing rhythm and outstanding bass lines by Tómas Magnus Tómasson who probably also handles the rare synthesizers on the album which are interestingly displaced by the Hammond organ, electric and acoustic piano. Some blues parts with frequent organ use include some nice guitars as well as choire vocals which can faintly be heard in the background. This is not the most elaborate track of the album, but as a free form jam the song stands out like all the others, as well because of several nice hooks, for example the creating of a melody by letting the instruments play different notes in succession: a good showcase for the band's talent of playing very exactly without sounding mechanical and exerted. Nonetheless the Finnish radio version of 1979 with Lárus Grimsson an Hammond organ and flute that is featured on the collection Ókomin forneskjan is even better because the flute relaxes the lounge jazz part of the middle section additionally.

The last four pieces create a huge suite showing a consistent mood which you could compare with a walk through the twilight, uncertainty and mist of an Icelandic autumn: wishful and melancholic, but also weird and relentless. The topic of that suite seems to be based loosely on experiences of and reflections on religion and church, dealing with topics like confession or excommunication.

And the beautiful component is the Focus-influenced Skriftagangur [Going to Confession] which assimilates soft pieces like Focus 3, although the prominent bassoon (played by Rúnar Vilbergsson) transforms it to a different level. A weird and well-composed melody (the only weird thing in the whole piece) commences the first stanza, soft and harmonic with Jan Akkerman-like guitars, the reflective vocals and a blinking Fender Rhodes. In the end, distant pianos and a bell find their way into the piece until the listener approaches a Viking festival with loud tattoo and vigorous vocals. The rest of this piece, Bannfaering [Excommunication] heads into the jolly folk prog style of the band's previous record, somehow echoing Gentle Giant as well. A treated acoustic guitar brings in a new riff, the song's 'bridge' that leads over to a cool and unconventional drum solo by drummer Asgeir Oskarsson who mainly works with approaching and departing percussion sounds (like Nick Mason's Grand Vizier's Garden Party), seemingly using the Rototoms as well. A short reprise of the bridge leads us into the longest piece of the album, Sjö sinnum... [Seven Times...], the more clearly composed sequel to Frá Vesturheimi. It heads off with a psychedelic ambience of reverberated guitar, electric piano and organ until the band intones an Icelandic choral whose melody is then worked out in a prog-fashion. The melody of this choral is repeated all over in this piece, with great improvisations in the meantime: hectic, bubbling prog parts go hand in hand with soft, yet menacing guitar soundscapes. A monolith is a jolting folk piece in the end which ends in fading out sound carpets. The mix of classical elements with progressive rock sounds quite like the Zeuhl music of Magma, but perhaps the peregrine vocals mainly provoke this comparison.

The last piece Tóbaksvisur [Tobacco song], a hymn to tobacco played solely with acoustic guitar, accordeon and vocals, is a weird closing track, with wailing and disturbing vocals that are even weirder than Supertramp's Fools Overture. In big parts of the piece Ólafsson restricts himself to mainly scatting something like 'doy doy doy'. Just as someone has already mentioned, one is eased extremely after the song has ended, but that could be exactly the intention of this piece, and as an off-key ending it works fantastically. For sure, you couldn't place such a song at the beginning of an album.

All in all, this album is nothing short of a masterpiece which sounds jazzy and progressive without trying to copy any other band. A combination of the beauty of Focus with the Canterbury sound of Matching Mole and the serious strangeness of Magma may describe this opus best, but the group is too independent to be equated with another band's music. All in all, there are less Samla Mammas Manna influences here than on the previous album. The sound and production of the record makes it even more timeless and great, I don't know many albums which sound as sophisticated, differentiated and at the same time warm and comfortable as Ţursabit.

Certainly, this record deserves the full score of 5/5 points as it is one of the best prog albums of the late 70s. Unfortunately, the album has been out of stock for years; today, the band has published their whole discography in 2008 in a great box set, but that has the effect that you can only receive the CD in this set, or you are lucky enough to find the album somewhere in a second hand shop with a really big repertory. I can highly recommend this set which isn't also too expensive with a price of approximately $60, regarding the great outfit, the small edition and the "ingredients": five great CDs in mini-vinyl/digipack look. It can be bought from Gregg Walker's Syn-Phonic shop (America) and the Freakparade-chief Charly Heidenreich (Germany).

[To all the Icelandic people who shake their heads about my - perhaps - inappropriate translations of the song titles: be free to write a message to me.]

Einsetumadur | 5/5 |


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