Got Dem Ole Icelandic Blues Again
Even in a music scene as vibrant and fertile as Iceland’s, Örn Elías Gudmundsson, who goes by the stage name Mugison, stands out. On his initial releases, Mugison was a one-man band, a gimmick he pulled off well enough that Icelandic critics voted 2004’s Mugimama Is This Monkey Music? album of the year. He later branched out, touring with a band and collaborating on soundtracks. He’s on the roster at Ipecac Recordings, a boutique label co-owned by former Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton. In his spare time, Mugison is also the amiable impresario behind Aldrei fór égsudur, an eclectic, family-friendly music festival now in its eighth year.
Mugiboogie, his 2008 release, is a “band” record. The album’s mood and tone are reminiscent of the Beatles’ late work, a connection made explicit in “George Harrison.” “Just like George/I’m goin’ into spiritual things,” Mugison whispers over a gently tinkling melody enlivened by the occasional sitar. John Lennon’s influence appears in the album’s white-boy blues, like the shriek kicking off “Mugiboogie,” a raging number filled with gusts of Hammond organ and raspy, distorted vocals.
Lyrically, Mugison conflates the personal and the political, the spiritual and the sexual. “You said Jesus was a good name to moan/And I love your moanin’ over the telephone,” he belts out on “Jesus Is a Good Name to Moan.” He employs his best lover-man falsetto on “The Animal,” urging listeners to take responsibility for their political choices. “Shame on the Israelis for building that ridiculous wall,” goes a typical line.
The music is varied, too. In addition to rockers and ballads, Mugison also stretches out. “I’m Alright” would be at home on an industrial record. Both “The Pathetic Anthem” and “My Love I Love” are stripped down and spare, whereas “Deep Breathing” features an unforced string arrangement.
Overall, Mugiboogie should appeal to listeners who enjoy a sixties vibe, but you may feel otherwise if you don’t agree that Billy Preston added anything to the Beatles’ sound.