He is Icelandic. He lives in Norway. He looks like Kurt Nilsen. He sounds exactly like Beck. He played drums in a band called Pornshot, recording this album whilst working for their minor record label. Welcome to the sharp-witted world of Gisli.
Anything you read about Gisli is bound to compare him to Beck (hell, I already have). More specifically, Gisli is likened to the Mellow Gold-era Beck; a creature that brought us acoustic hip-hop and dry humour along the lines of Loser and Soul Suckin’ Jerk. It’s not an entirely fair judgement, either, given that How About That also tends to swagger between Midnite Vultures-style saucyness and Sea Change melancholy with apparent ease.
As a debut album, How About That has an entirely accomplished feel. It could be down to the persistent dead-pan narrative (peaking with a hilarious Gareth Gates verse on Go Get ‘Em Tiger). It could also be down to the fact that it’s a one-man show in the most literal sense, which sees the same sensibilities and Bjork-esque tendencies permeate into every aspect of each and every track.
Title track and album opener is bursting at the seams with poetic one-liners (“A lot of heroin junkies used to work out… How ’bout that?”), layered over a sparse verse / fuzzy chorus. I can’t think of a better opening song on any album this year. Straight To Hell takes a slightly more college rock approach, but is, inevitably, saved by Gisli’s cock-eyed rhymes, iced with observations that only crop up with non-native speakers.
Cynicism reaches a head with Go Get ‘Em Tiger (imagine venom-laden, sarcastic rap over a massive beat and repeated guitar riff), fuelling rumours that Gisli is Kurt Nilsen’s evil twin from another dimension. Like all good artists, however, Gisli seems to have sensed this suspicion, and promptly meanders forth with the album’s first folk song Worries. “If you married a millionaire / You’d worry about his stuff” swoons the Icelander, seemingly contemplating the futility of a friend over a campfire and a beer or two.
I Don’t Fight’s sleazy, baritone delivery certainly gives Har Mar a run for his money, and notches up another feather in How About That’s cap (definitely a Hollywood Freaks for 2004). Moreover, TV = The Devil, whilst having a dangerously cringey title, clatters along with the kind of skilled abandon you might expect from a Franz Ferdinand / David Bowie collaboration. High praise, eh?
Far from running out of steam, Gisli climaxes with mini-epics like the outstanding Passing Out, the Chemical Brothers-like Can You Make Me Right and starkly sincere I’m Trying (which sounds like Stephen Malkmus gone cold turkey).
It can be quite hard to take stock of debut from an unknown – there is a big risk of overestimation, to say the least. All I am sure of is that How About That is on a par with Mellow Gold, meaning that, if there is any justice in the world, Gisli is headed for some much-deserved Odelay-sized success. Perhaps the best album you’ve ever bought on a whim (well, not including this slight nudge in the right direction).