CD Review of Something Wrong by Bang Gang

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Something Wrong
starstarstarstarno star Label: From Nowhere Records
Released: 2003
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It has been said that the only way one can understand how the biggest musical acts to come out of Sweden have been dance groups (Abba) or hardcore death metal rockers (Necrophobia) is to traverse the snow-covered wilderness of the country. After doing that you’ll either want to dance the night away or create some of the darkest music ever known.

Maybe then one would have to travel to Iceland to really understand why their pop music landscape is seemingly dominated by quiet post-experimental spaced-out rock bands like Sigur Rós and Mum. These are mysterious bands that somehow find a way to simultaneously flood their music with countless layers of instruments and melodies but still manage to sound just barely louder than a whisper. Iceland is a very isolated country and sparsely populated, so maybe they just aren’t used to that much noise. The possibility also exists that the place is just too damn cold to get up the energy to produce anything remarkably loud or fast-paced. Or maybe the nation’s water supply has some natural sedatives in it (a possible overdose of said sedatives just might explain Björk).

The latest export from this Nordic freezer is Bang Gang (not Gang Bang; if you’re going to Google them, make sure you get the word order right) and their album Something Wrong. While it’s the band's first release in America, it’s their third album overall, and they’ve been recording since the late '90s. So while they may be able to credit their recent Western exposure to the success of Icelandic indie-rock superstars Sigur Rós, you can’t accuse Bang Gang of ripping them off musically, because they’ve been around longer than their hipster-cherished countrymen.

While they share many of the qualities commonly associated with Sigur Rós and other Icelandic bands -- mainly their overall spacey, quiet sound and gentle melodies -- they’ve also found some ways to stand out. Firstly, while they are an experimental-sounding band, they also keep their music firmly grounded in pop reality. Songs like “Forward And Reverse” and “Inside” are sedate and slow, but never so slow that you forget that you’re actually listening to music. While listening to Something Wrong you’ll even hear a guitar solo or two -- albeit a short and fairly quiet one. If you have any doubt as to their pop-music inspiration, listen to their surprising cover of The Supremes’ “Stop In the Name Of Love.” Shockingly faithful to the original, this folk-cum-electronic take on the Motown classic is downright beautiful and conveys the raw emotion and desperation of the lyrics in a way the original never did.

There are a few things wrong with Something Wrong, however. Nearly every song on the album has a different lead singer, and some of them just aren’t up to task. “Everything's Gone” begins with a painful squeal by Bardi Johannsson and never really recovers, and “Contradiction” features vocals by a woman named Nicolette Suwoton, who is trying way too hard to be Billie Holliday and instead sounds like someone with a wicked sinus infection.

No matter who they have at the mic Bang Gang is always on top of things musically, and their beautiful and relaxing music should appeal to anyone into the dream-pop sound that is currently not only the rage in Iceland but over most of Europe as well.

~James B. Eldred