Bang Gang | Something Wrong (From Nowhere)

The clearest candidate for a universal favorite lies in the Johannsson-sung "It's Alright," an acoustic-driven piece built around smooth, echoing vocals, harmonic expansion, and beautifully sincere lyrics.

 

Bardi Johannsson is the sort of enigmatic Renaissance man that only a country as isolated as Iceland could give birth to. He produces, directs, designs, composes, performs, and sings out of necessity—to get the mad genius out and into melody. Johannsson's romantic delirium drives him from opus to opus, from the collaborative Bang Gang to the soundtrack project Haxan, to performing alongside the National Symphony of Bulgaria. Bouncing between unaffected minimalism, ambient electronics, and swirling hypnotics, Johannsson maintains a constant majesty.

The epic orchestration and lonely reverberations of Bang Gang's 2007 re-release, Something Wrong (previously released overseas in 2003), melt mellow pop notions into mesmerizing grandiosity. Enlisting the help of the other half of Lady and the Bird, Keren Ann, as well as guest vocalists Nicolette and Phoebe Tolmer, Johannsson says the soft things out loud. Those things that haunt, contradict, and elicit dark, unknown beauty rise to the surface. We are enveloped in a careful nightmare, one where you can't get hurt, yet are unsettled by the transitory landscape. In all, Bang Gang reveals that there is pleasant splendor when uncertainty is understood and followed.

Something Wrong is centered on a mélange of voices, some sultry, some smooth, and some soulful and occasionally jazzy. Johannsson's sweet expressions stand out the most, and he saves the best songs to sing for himself. However, the stronger female voices make for angelic foils to the songwriter's demons. On "There Was a Whisper," Tolmer sounds like Imogen Heap playing Nancy Sinatra in "Bang Bang," yet Johannsson is too delicate to shoot this lady down. A slow build of strings and moody keys blossoms into a victorious rose, reminiscent of their Icelandic brothers of a similar namesake, all while Tolmer's steady search clings like a comforting hand to the back of your head.

The clearest candidate for a universal favorite lies in the Johannsson-sung "It's Alright," an acoustic-driven piece built around smooth, echoing vocals, harmonic expansion, and beautifully sincere lyrics. Johannsson sings, "I meant nothing bad/ I'm just excited/ Please don't cry/ I try to fight it/ It's alright." This earnest approach really aids in Bang Gang's ability to suck you into their world, although it may be isolating at times. Not all is dim in this world, though. One significantly bright surprise on Something Wrong is an adorable cover of the Supremes' "Stop in the Name of Love." Johannsson's lighthearted arpeggios bring a new element to a classic, but it is otherwise true and undeniably sweet and fresh.

While Bang Gang creates plenty of deep, hypnotic dreamscape, they do so in such an organic and learned fashion. On "Contradictions," Nicollete coos over smoky, smooth jazz, but you never forget that it's the same band that just droned and grooved you with "Inside" and "Everything's Gone," respectively. Johannsson is able to seamlessly make any influence his own, a rare talent that is no doubt a product of his obvious obsession with introspection. Something Wrong is, indeed, rare in its own right, as it achieves both dark ambience and vigor at the same time. In Johannsson's sad tones are hair-raising comforts, reminders of humanity and the crime that is the understatement of bliss. A- | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: The Notwist, Songs of Green Pheasant, Thom Yorke

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