Gus Gus

4AD Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Let's be honest here - when you think of rock and roll, the first place in the world that comes to mind isn't Iceland. Hell, if the Sugarcubes hadn't burst onto the scene back in the late '80s, probably the only think Reykjavik would have been remembered for was a summit between Reagan and Gorbachev.

So it was with trepidation that I approached the debut release from Gus Gus, Polydistortion. Any band with nine members tends to scare me. Even their cryptic bio kept me from listening to the disc for a few days.

But after a few spins on the old CD player in the Pierce Memorial Archives (sterilized for your protection), I have to admit this is an entertaining, though at times challenging, listen that blows Bjork and her former band away.

The sparse liner notes prevent me from giving credit where credit should be issued. It's hard to tell if it is Daniel Agust, Magnus Jonsson or Hafdis Huld singing. Thanks to the bio, though, some performances can be singled out: Agust's vocals on "Polyesterday" and "Believe" (the latter featuring a killer riff from Kool & The Gang as a sample) make these tracks some of the best dance-cum-alternative I've heard blaring out of the speakers in a long time. And Huld does wonders on "Cold Breath '79," sounding slightly like a more controlled Bjork, only much more fluid in her vocal. (I'd love to know who does the vocal on "Is Jesus Your Pal?," a song which may be the unheralded performance on the disc.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From the minute-long intro of "Oh," you know this is going to be an interesting journey. Though it stumbles a bit in the beginning with "Gun," Gus Gus is able to eventually win the listener over to the track's hypnotic beat and vocals. Be warned, though - this one is at least a five-listen track before it becomes truly addictive.

"Believe," one of the two singles from Polydistortion, is the proof that this band is both shunning the path blazed for them by the Sugarcubes as well as carving their own niche out in the world of alternative dance. Courtesy of the previously mentioned sample, this one is going to leave a rhythm burned into your head that is damn near impossible to shake. The other single, "Polyesterday," allows the band to be quirky without going over the top. Maybe it was the control that Gus Gus showed that made me a believer.

Not all the tracks live up to this hope, though. The vocal shrieks in "Barry" grow almost to the point of annoyance - as if the eponymous Bee Gee was having his vocal cords cut with a Super Slicer. "Why?" and "Purple" tend to fall towards the side of boredom as well. Nevertheless, the complaints with Polydistortion are few.

I don't mean to do any discredit to the remaining six band members who I've not mentioned - nor do I mean disrespect by not typing their names with the correct phonetic marks (so much for the ease of use of Windows 95). One thing which does make me curious, though, is the mention of film work and production in the bio. It almost sounds like Gus Gus is a band who can be appreciated on disc, but whose true art form is on the small screen - kind of like Green Jello (I don't care if that isn't their name anymore) without the foam rubber heads and funny songs, if you will.

What also intrigues me is that Music Boulevard, where I go for many of the album covers you see here (please don't sue), lists Polydistortion as a limited edition release. Hmm... wonder why. (Editor's note: CDNOW bought Music Boulevard around 1998 or 1999.)

If Gus Gus can win over a hardened critic like myself, then they should have little problem conquering the alternative music world they revel in. Polydistortion is an admirable debut effort - and given a little more work on the rough edges, they could make us forget where they're from and make us think about where they're headed.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of 4AD Records, and is used for informational purposes only.