Monday, April 17, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #14

Daniel Agust
“Swallowed A Star”
This is the first solo album from the former lead singer with GusGus, whose dancefloor-friendly electronica is immensely popular in their native Iceland, but seems unfairly consigned to the periphery elsewhere. I fear the same fate for “Swallowed A Star”: initially available directly from label One Little Indian in September 2005, the album received a commercial release in January 2006; by April, it was lining the Virgin Megastore bargain bins, which is where I rescued my copy. Like many budget purchases, “Swallowed A Star” turns out to be a hidden treasure, a lavishly illustrated ‘hardback edition’ CD with delicately crafted music to match. Despite the album’s title, the impression is that Agust has swallowed an orchestra’s string section, as bass, cello, viola and violin provide the framework for Agust’s distinctive vocals. Björk is the immediate musical comparison, harking back to the spine-tingling orchestral remix of The Sugarcubes’ “Deus” way back in the late 1980s. “Swallowed A Star” also feels very much like a 4AD label release from that period, evoking both the sleeve and atmospherics of This Mortal Coil’s “Blood”. Oddly enough, Agust’s vocals effortlessly make the transition from GusGus’ (who, ironically, were with 4AD for a time) club-centric sound to this new, largely beatless setting. The English lyrics are basic, yet effective; the most extreme example of Agust’s minimalist approach being “Nobody Else”, which repeats the single refrain ‘You don’t want nobody else / ‘cause you got me babe’ throughout. The album’s theme appears to be the struggle to see beyond the mundane and appreciate life’s inherent beauty. Agust sings about an existence ‘under the mainstream…on the outskirts of life’ (“The Stingray”), noting that ‘the comforts of my yellow blue and white apartment block / block my vision’ (“Love And Respect”). However, the narrative optimism seems firmly rooted in companionship: ’We can open our eyes / and come to realize / we’re more able in life when we love’ (“Sparks Fly”); or ‘We’re gonna make a day / and drive away / the gray’ (“The Gray”). An instrumental “Intersection” bisects the ten tracks, though there’s no discernable change in mood between the two halves. The songs could easily become overblown or pretentious, but Agust maintains a restraint, an intimacy that serves the songs well. With the music of Embrace (grandiose, pompous) and Sigur Ros (sweepingly epic) currently (back) in vogue, now would seem the perfect opportunity for Daniel Agust’s album to emerge - One Little Indian are evidently hoping to repeat the success of Björk’s “Debut”. Sadly, I think “Swallowed A Star” may just miss the boat, through no fault of it’s own. I’ve played it dozens of times since buying it and am convinced it’s an album which, once owned, will be treasured constantly. Daniel Agust has swallowed a star and deserves an opportunity to illuminate people’s lives with his music. Watch the skies.

Tracklisting: 1. Someone Who Swallowed A Star / 2. The Moss
(excerpt) / 3. Nobody Else / 4. The Gray / 5. The Stingray (excerpt) / 6. Intersection / 7. Till I Know (excerpt) / 8. If You Leave Me Now / 9. Sparks Fly / 10. Love And Respect

N.B. Apologies for some missing accents, particularly in Daniel Agust’s name. For the correct spelling – and a useful discography – visit his
Discogs profile.

Listen to the GusGus
back catalogue on their official website. Posted by Picasa


Blogger Atom Boy said...

I know what you mean about the 4AD sound. If he'd been around a couple of decades earlier he might have got a call-up to the TMC squad. As a vocalist, though? I'm not sure. As much as I've always liked Gus Gus, Agust's voice can get a bit wearing with extended listening. Having said that, on some tracks it just works so well, such as their cover of DM's Monument.

I haven't heard this album yet but, from what you say, it sounds like I should!

10:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trying to track this album down state-side, but so far it is pretty $$ being an import (~$32).

I enjoy your blog, I just happened to stumble on it looking up "Sparks Fly".


4:40 am  
Blogger Khayem said...

Have you tried the Music Stack website? Not sure if you'll find it much cheaper, but I've found it a pretty useful source for hard to find stuff in the past. And there's always ebay - I waouldn't be surprised if copies are going for a reasonable (starting) price there... and postage to the US may well be cheaper too.

Thanks for your comments about the blog - hope you'll be a regular visitor!

10:44 am  

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