Ghostigital: In Cod We Trust

[8 March 2006]

By Mike Schiller

It’s nice to hear that Einar Örn is still, after all these years, more than a little bit nuts.  Most readily identified as the crazy dude ranting next to Björk back in the Sugarcubes days, Örn is now 43 years old and going his own way, without the crutch of a brilliant chameleon of a vocalist to ground his eclectic tendencies.  Ghostigital is a collaboration between Örn and production whiz Curver, and In Cod We Trust is the second album from that project, finding a perfect home on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings.  The result?  A spazz-industrial hip-hop album with someone who sounds vaguely like Dexter (from, yes, Dexter’s Laboratory) constantly shouting at you.

In Cod We Trust is just as bizarre as such a description would imply.  Here’s a one-sided snippet of dialogue, courtesy of Örn, from the otherwise comparatively conventional track “Crackers”:

There’s a person in front of me!  Of course there’s a person in front of me!  I’m in the queue!  I look behind me, oops!  There’s something behind me, oops!  Yes, another person, pushing the cart, into my bottom!  Just pushing a little bit!  Just pushing me!  Edging me!  Forward!  Making me a little bit annoyed!  I don’t like being pushed when I’m in a queue!  A queue is a queue!

...and so on, and so forth.  He rants about the everyday sort of annoying things that most people would like, deep down, to freak out about, if not for the fear of landing in a mental institution.  Luckily for Örn, insanity makes for great art, so here it is.  Over the course of In Cod We Trust, Örn can be found to shout about morning people, insomnia, squares, the simultaneously suffocating and ridiculous nature of club culture, and, of course, cod.  As opposed to haddock.  With chips.  Am I making sense here?  No?  Good.  Now you know how I feel.

None of this insanity would be nearly as intriguing without the spastic backing that it’s given.  The beats themselves are deceptively simple, never actually layering too much percussion together, just sort of establishing themselves and allowing the other sounds and voices to take over.  Something like “Totally Confused” would be impossible to dance to, because the beat is quite unconventional, but there’s rarely more than one percussion sound playing at any given instant.  The complexity of the song is built with discordant synths, lots of beeping noises, and the manipulation of Örn’s voice.  “Black Sand”, which features a fabulous rap from Dälek, has a fairly conventional hip-hop beat, but there are sporadic record scratches, distorted guitar hits, and bursts of static all competing for attention against Dälek and Örn’s traded verses.  Even with all of this going on, it’s the tremendous, droning (and occasionally skronking) saxophone courtesy of Hrafn Ásgeirsson that ends up winning the battle of loud noises.  It’s not the individual instruments and voices that make the three short minutes of “Black Sand” such a fantastic listen, however, it’s the completely illogical and brilliant way that they all come together to make some sense out of utter chaos.

Much as such flamboyant genre and instrument bashing often sounds fresh and new, there are certainly places where it becomes self-conscious and cumbersome, particularly on the grating album-opening epic “Good Morning”, whose seven-and-a-half minutes feel more like 15.  It sputters and stutters to its start, Örn speaking in a high-pitched voice even more affected than his normal rant, eventually giving way to slow, noisy sludge whose only saving grace is the voice of Sensational providing both respite from Örn’s gibberish and a decent set of rhymes to hold on to.  “Good Morning” is, for all intents and purposes, a giant “GO AWAY” to anyone expecting anything even approaching normalcy—which would probably be fine if it didn’t stick around and assault my ears for so damn long.  The album’s other bookend fares much better, a track called “Sense of Reason” that starts innocuously enough, but eventually turns into a highly rhythmic noise jam.  Perhaps Curver took away Örn’s microphone so he could pretend he was Einsturzende Neubauten for a few minutes.

Oddly enough, such a conclusion is enough to convince someone like me to start the album up again.  In Cod We Trust is far from perfect; actually, it’s incredibly uneven, despite a striking uniformity to the sound and style throughout.  Still, it’s adventurous enough to sound like nothing you’ve heard before (even if you’re familiar with Örn’s previous work) and while its copious levels of quirk toe the line between charming and grating fairly regularly, it lands on the side of charm most often.  It’s noise without all of the overtly serious overtones that the genre typically represents.  Perhaps best of all, it’s almost impossible to predict whether a potential listen will prove entertaining, or even bearable, for any given person.  Despite my mixed opinion of the results, such willingness to dive into potential disaster is both rare and admirable.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/ghostigital_in_cod_we_trust/