Exhibit A is Milkywhale, the duo of dancer/vocalist Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir and FM Belfast‘s electronics guru Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson. They’ve been making music together since 2015 and even performed a full set at Airwaves that year… and somehow they’d escaped my notice. This is probably due to the fact that, as far as I know, they never had physical release prior to last month, but that’s just nothing more than a hollow excuse. Because I can’t believe a band this good has been out there and I missed them. Fortunately thanks to my friend Bryan Riebeek at Theory of Whatever I have been able to correct this deficiency in my musical experience courtesy of his label’s pressing of Milkywhale’s self-titled debut on vinyl.
Árni is, simply put, a genius when it comes to electronic beats. He has a way of taking unusual sounds and turning them into percussion to serve as either an underlying or primary beat. In addition to your more standard drum sounds we’re treated to things like Monty Python’s coconuts and 8-bit video game effects, elements that give the songs a feel that is both non-standard and, more importantly, playful. While stylistically different, Milkywhale reminds me more than a little of the brilliant 2015 album by Halleluwah – a beat-maker paired up with a relatively inexperienced female vocalist putting new spins on established styles of music. Halleluwah was my favorite album of 2015; Milkywhale has a good shot at making my Top 5 in 2017.
Milkywhale opens with the retro-styled title track driven by classic old school electro-beats with a slight disco flavor à la The KLF, a synthy wonderland that uses the vocals as more of a sonic component than a means of lyrical delivery. From there the pair transition to some fairly chill tracks in “Birds of Paradise” and “Motionless”, and on first listen I assumed this was the direction the album was going to take… but I was wrong. Well, kind of wrong and kind of right, because Milkywhale doesn’t fit into a neatly categorizable bucket. “Animal Kingdom” spins us off in a much different trajectory with some passages of almost rapped lyrics imposed over beats that sometimes drop low into the mix and at others leap right to the forefront. It’s the first time Melkorka gets out of her comfort zone, and it’s a major success. And then we get to “Immaterial”… oh “Immaterial,” you sweet, sweet piece of music… how good is this track? It’s that damn good, that’s how good, a toe-tapping dance track with pace and beat changes that maintain the flow while changing the temperature just a bit here and there. To my ears it’s the highlight of the album.
The B side opens strong with “Revelation,” which gives “Immaterial” a run for its money as it bounces back and forth between icy quietness and full-blown dance-beats. “Invisible” is mid-tempo groover that gives Árni the opportunity to contribute some vocals (he also makes an appearance on the mic on “Rhubarb Girl”), and we close out with the dramatic and vocal-focused “Eclipse”.
– Jeff Obermeyer