Iceland has produced some good acts, but at times the idea that every act from Iceland is great or the next best thing is a stretch. Just because you come from a small town that is in the middle of the middle of nowhere does not make you brilliant or give you any sort of credibility. One label which seems to have bucked the trend is Iceland's own Thule Musik. The label, home to Mum and Americana (or, Icelandana in this case), has released Worm Is Green's debut album. The group, the brainchild of Arni Asgeirsson, has received good press after its release in Europe last year. And because the album on this side of the ocean is no different, the ink should be just as complimentary.
The leadoff title track starts off with a series of blips and bleeps and you might think you're in for the next horrid ripoff of either Fatboy Slim or Kraftwerk. But there is a method to this subtle madness, as what could be described as video game noises begin to make sense more than a minute in, setting the tone for an ambient yet up-tempo opening a la Stereolab or a remixed Sigur Ros. The melody is what keeps this song from grating on one's nerves, especially with the synthesizer and sampler work from Asgreirsson and Bjarni Hannesson, respectively. It's a perfect way to slide into the album. "The Robot Has Got the Blues" initially comes off as a Bjork-ish throwaway before the tune crawls along with a smoky, blues-like pace. But Guoriour Ringstead's delivery turns the song on its ear, not really taking the track by the scruff of the neck but playing more of a bit part. It's one of the quickest and least intrusive songs on the album.
A cover of Joy Divison's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is nothing new for a band trying to earn some kudos. However, Worm Is Green use the opening guitar notes to then basically emasculate it with a bevy of keyboards and waves of synthesized effects. Here they sound a lot like fellow European group the Gathering. Its dark nature, already embedded in the song and its history, is only given more bleakness thanks to the Nico-like monotone style in the vocals. The guitars come back near the conclusion, creating a My Bloody Valentine effect. "Undercover" seems to halt the momentum created thus far, with a sloppy and scratch-filled LP loop that takes the song basically nowhere. "Life will never be the same", Ringstead sings, in a vein that recalls Massive Attack's "Teardrop".
Possibly the first challenging song is "Shine", which offers more sampling and light, breezy touches prior to it gaining a sonic second wind. Harmony vocals recall Yo La Tengo, but the arrangement is anything but. "Morning Song" is a lullaby by way of quirky, quasi-industrial tones that would fit bands like the Sundays if Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor had a hand in producing them. What appears to be quite an advantage for Worm Is Green is how they take these lush, ambient touches and don't overdo them, instead relying on the pop rock or radio length of typical songs, going between three and four minutes. The first truly memorable track is the challenging "Sunday Session 3.04", which contains everything they've done this far and pushes the envelope further. The drumbeat (and, yes, there is an actual drummer here) plays right into the song's hands for a great effect. The Eno-esque "Drive Thru" leaves something to be desired, however, as it is basically a run through of a catchy tempo plied with effects left lying around circa Trainspotting. Fortunately, it does grow on the listener by the fourth or fifth minute, either through letting one's guard down or finally getting into its awkward groove.
"Outline" is very similar to Radiohead's Kid A album, as the Yorke-like high pitch is used throughout over a rudimentary trip hop beat. But "Sunday Session" takes the album down a relatively boring and sullen road as the ambient textures become almost like elevator music when the elevator is broken. It's as if they don't have the tunes to finish the album properly, reverting to brief experimental snippets that are anything but pleasurable. "Amazing Things" tries to right the ship, and it does for the most part, but a little bit of editing would make this relatively strong album all the stronger.