You know, there are two Gislis. One is a Danish hip-hop artist whose EP Sky High you may have come across last year. The other Gisli, the Gisli we are concerned with today, is a bit harder to describe.
Basically, Gisli’s songs fall into three categories: sincere guitar ballads, upbeat slacker-serious rock songs, and a familiar deadpan R&B. Though the album starts off brash, with a strong sense of Beck-like swagger, it settles into a rhythm of small arcs—the slow ballad, the mid-tempo track, and up-beat faux-rap, back round again. But towards the end, the fire drains all out, and Gisli elects to re-emphasize the mellower aspect of his eclectic range of styles. It’s not a bad decision, because this tends to be his best; when Gisli drops the lyrical witticisms, some pretty, casually wry pop songs.
The big comparison here is Odelay-era Beck, especially for those semi-rap numbers. However, Gisli’s tone throughout is more reminiscent of “Drinking in LA” by Bran Van 3000. The theme running through Gisli’s disparate genres and styles is the singer’s keen sense of incompletion, of something cracked within himself.
“How About That?” is the first single, a joke-rock song with the sensibility of big hip-hop beats and the kind of lyrics that get talked about, in the kind of deadpan delivery that is half ironic (but not quite ironic enough to cause you to laugh out loud). “A lot of stock brokers used to be broke / A lot of really straight people used to do coke”—how about that? Well, it’s catchy, and Gisli’s trying so hard to be disaffected that the effect’s not totally obnoxious. And get over the “Ooh he mentioned coke in his song” thing and realize, yup, Americans have a President who fits that bill.
“Go Get ‘Em Tiger”, which tells the story of two guys sitting at a café shooting up heroin, may be the most indebted to Beck of the songs within this pseudo-rap class; Gisli’s voice has a similar too-cool tone, but his inflection is more Scandinavian, his music more closely aligned with laptop rap than multi-instrumental joie-de-vivre.
Gisli can be more cutting—as when he ends his ‘date’ with Gareth Gates (the English version of, say, Clay Aiken): “What do you expect me to say—hooray? / Want a parade? No fucking way, man”. But occasionally even he pushes it too far. His list of similes in “Can You Make Me Right?”, meant to illustrate the singer’s incompleteness in a very tongue-in-cheek way, goes all the way to “I’m like the Second World War without the Nazis / I’m like Diana without the paparazzi”. Then there’s Gisli’s version of that Monty Python tune “The Worry Song” (“Worries”), in which the accusation beneath the music (that’s you with all your worries, I’m over here just fine) is a little hard to take. At worst, his music approaches (but never quite gets there, thank goodness) the laptop joke-hop of semi-satirists like MC Lars.
But the advantage of this eclecticism is that Gisli is soon careening off into another genre, another idiosyncracy. And some, just some, are something really unique, making listening to How About That? worthwhile. That particular pause before the chorus in “End of the Ropes”, with its shuffled slow-jazz percussion and casual computer tinkering, for instance. Or the cracked desperation that laces “I’m Trying”.
On How About That?, Gisli’s given us personality without censure, and the results—though not entirely successful—are a unique eclecticism of recognizable elements. It’s certainly a very listenable album, and as often very fun as it is off-putting or grabbing for quick humour. At his most intimate, Gisli is a very promising—this intelligent, self-aware, quirky pop could take him further than How About That? immediately suggests.