There are two famous Spocks in the world today, one real, the other fictional.
The real one was Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician and psychoanalyst who became a household name due to his seminal books on child rearing and behavior that influenced multiple generations of parents (and, subsequently, their kids). He also won a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics as a rower for the Yale 8-man boat that represented the United States, which is pretty cool. Dr. Spock lived a full life and passed away in 2008 at the age of 94.
Depending on your age and where you live, though, the fictional Spock may very well be the more familiar of the two. The Vulcan served as the first officer on the USS Enterprise as it boldly went where no man had gone before. A brilliant scientist and cold logician, Spock sacrificed himself to save the crew of the Enterprise during their battle with the genetically-altered super-villain Khan… but then of course came back to life… and ended up in a time warp that later resulted int here being two Spocks, one old and one young, living simultaneously… and a whole bunch of other convoluted storylines that I can’t be bother to try to keep track of any more. He’s pretty bad-ass, though, and has some musical cred as well, receiving various musical shout-outs (most notably by the Beastie Boys on “Intergalactic” and D.O.A.’s “Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty and Bones”) and even putting out his own album of sorts, Leonard Nimoy Presents Dr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space (1967).
But there’s another Spock out there. Like the first a doctor; like the second capable of taking you down with a neck pinch. This Dr. Spock resides on a volcanic rock in the North Atlantic, a place where people used to think the entrance to Hell could be found, in a city aptly named “Smokey Bay” by its founders but better known today as Reykjavik. And this Dr. Spock is not here to fuck around, let me tell you, launching songs at you like shells from a howitzer to pulverize your brain into oblivion and leave behind a tear in your consciousness that will cause you to never look at the world the same way again. A band that in 2009 rolled through the streets of Reykjavik in an open-sided cargo trailer, swilling Jack Daniels and spewing forth their brand of punk-funk to the enraptured masses in something that resembled a bizarre religious ritual. Their live shows are characterized by high energy, swirling mosh pits and beer and yellow rubber dishwashing gloves. They are one of my favorite bands to see in concert.
This is the Dr. Spock I’m writing about today. The howitzer guys.
It’s been a long time since we were last graced with a new album by the good Doktor. They followed up their 2005 debut Dr Phil with the briljant Falcon Christ in 2008, and then radio silence for almost a decade. They unleashed a new single into the world in “Namenakutsame” in 2016, a tease for what many of us hoped was a forthcoming album, but then it got quiet again. Until a few months back, that is, when we learned that the Dr. Spock’s long-awaited third album was coming soon. And that is how, my friends, we arrived at their latest release, the rubber-glove-fisted Leður (Leather).
And it was worth the wait.
To prepare myself for this review I went back and took a journey through Dr. Spock’s back catalog, as it’s been a while since I listened to their first two albums. And man, I forgot how great they are. Whether it’s the funky rhythms, the crazy organs, or the bizarro covers of “Strawberry Fields” and “Private Dancer”, you never know what’s around the corner on a Dr. Spock album. Hearing massive Dr. Spock frontman Finni sing that he wants to be your private dancer, dancing for money is an unsettling experience, especially when it’s live.
Leður opens with the track Dr. Spock opened their sets with the last two times I saw them live, an instrumental entitled “Intro” that sets the stage of what is to come by simply building tension, a somewhat repetitive musical passage that picks up velocity as it accelerates towards the rocket launch that will be the rest of the album.
It’s hard to slap a clean genre label onto Dr. Spock. Maybe a filth encrusted one would work better… but I digress. Part punk attitude, part metal speed, a heavy dose of funk in the rhythm section, and an organ that sounds like it’s being played by the creepy clown from Stephen King’s It in some kind of demented circus, everything that Dr. Spock does is intended to keep you off kilter and out of synch. Perhaps the closest that we get to something mainstream is the metal-esque “Gamli Maður”, but that’s immediately followed by the completely whacked-out “Elefanto Be”, which opens with Finni doing some kind of crazy lo-fi urban yodeling as an intro for Óttarr Proppé’s barking-frog-like vocal delivery that makes you begin to question your own sanity. And when that transitions to Óttarr’s creepy-as-hell grunted laugh at the start of “Sexsexsex”, well, hide the women and children, my friends, because something dark has come to town.
While Finni and Óttarr tend to get the most attention for their roles at the front of the stage with Dr. Spock, the musicians behind them are an incredibly talented group. Driven forward like runaway train by the rhythm section, the band effortlessly pivot on a dime to go from punk to metal to funk to something crazy like a quiet piano interlude. They cover a wide range of styles and speeds, making it all seem easy.
My favorite track after a dozen or so Leður listens is “Pabbatagl”, a song featuring lo-fi vocals from Finni (My head is gone / Your head is on / My head is on / Your head is gone), some samples, and the occasional familiar-sounding metal guitar riff. It drives forward while maintaining a healthy amount of that Dr. Spock weirdness.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been enjoying the digital download of Leður, which is available on iTunes and a bunch of other places. It’s my understanding there was a plain black sleeve super limited edition vinyl (20 or 30 copies) sold at the album launch show a few weeks back, and I was certainly bummed to have missed out on that. BUT… the boys have put out another super limited run of vinyl (not sure how many copies…) with an actual printed jacket and fortunately for me a friend of mine in Reykjavik got his paws on one for me.
– Jeff Obermeyer