Due to appear at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March Norwegian bluegrass loons Grand Island will surely be gas in still Texas water: The streamlined and heartfelt songs of the quintessential Texas troubadour is not exactly what these Norwegians aim for.
No, their name does not refer to the biggest of Canaries. And even thought there is a pleasantville in Nebraska by the name of Grand Island that is not it either. -Too far west, for these boys are inbreed Appalachians, or so they seem to suggest: their music and message is clearly verging on madness. Amiss are norms, order and respect for expectations. Loath of narrative logic, temperance and a structure of recognition Grand Island’s dual pair of brothers -with an unrelated fifth member constituting the genetic freak- pour into the cauldron of their music frantic banjos, jungle beats and primal veils, blood-line precision, crystal-meth energy and general hysteria.
The blend is a mutated and boosted meta-version of the innermost musical madness of America’s eastern mountains. This is how they like to present themselves anyhow.
They also confess a hint of influence from such entities as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, and this might be a better indicator of the state of mind we are here talking about. For even if the sound is that of the convoluted mountain, the state of mind is very far from inbreed stupidity. Zappa’s superfluity of ideas and arrogance of musical complexity is a lot closer.
Perhaps the most striking quality of all is the vocals: Almost incomprehensible English is presented by a one-voice cacophony; a voice that oscillates from nice cobber-tone timbres to wolfish grunts and female whining. And the velocity:! Maxim gun spits words; the phrasing is alien, meaning eludes us, yet it is English. (One can clearly hear the word “kill”)
The songs are not symmetrical and rounded entities, nay, they are more reminiscent of the path of a drugged, or inbred, mind, leaping ever-on never back. They are complex, fragmented and most of all frantic sequences of music. Like caustic soda and milk, the true mountain dew, Grand Island is not something to hold on to: you must go along and pick up the speed as it gathers, and then, when the chorus sets in, everything lifts like a vast flock of birds.
The choruses tend to be catchy beyond imagination (“sin-song, sin-along” as they aptly put it themselves) and constitute some kind of recurring comment on the madness, or a promise: “there is always a party near for those who dare!”
The debut album “Say no to Sin” took the scene in Norway by surprise; blew most off their feet frankly, and nearing Christmas many critics lift it up as the musical feat of the year. So it is that Grand Island divides along the lines of the mind: Those who excel when control must be left behind love their music. The rest think that Grand Island overdo it and that they tear apart, with loony lack of limitation, some greatly igniting music.
What will the Texans think?