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Posts Tagged ‘Finland’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Orbitary Volcano (7:11)
2. …Phantom Wakes (12:26)
3. Cosmic Train to Anticreation (7:41)
4. Trinity Quadrilogy (10:53)

LINEUP:
Tuomas –  electric and acoustic guitars
Sini  – saxophones, percussion, mallets, tubular bells
Marko – drums, percussion
Teppo – keyboards, voices
Ville – bass

With:
Antti – trombone

Known only by their first names, the five members of Dasputnik hail from the former Finnish capital of Turku, where they first got together in 2005 as a jamming project called Mystery Space. They became Dasputnik during the following year, which also saw their first live performance. After two demos (titled Demo and Blatta Caverna), they finally released their debut album, Parapsychosis, in 2009, followed by Cyclokosmia in the spring of 2011.

With its stunningly bright-hued artwork (apparently based on the Garden of Eden)  and song titles such as “Cosmic Train to Anticreation”, Cyclokosmia proudly declares Dasputnik’s allegiance to the time-honoured school of psychedelic/space rock – which,  in this second decade of the 21st century, is enjoying something of a revival both in Europe and in the US. Scandinavian countries, as is so often the case in the variegated world of progressive rock, seem to be at the forefront of this movement, with outfits such as Øresund Space Collective, My Brother the Wind and Dungen (to name but three) attracting quite a lot of international attention. Finland’s remarkable contribution to this thriving subgenre, while perhaps not large in terms of sheer number of bands, has been remarkable, includes names such as cult trio Kingston Wall in the early Nineties, and, in more recent times, Hidria Spacefolk and Taipuva Luotisuora.

Many of the bands adopting the psych/space aesthetics, both in the Old and the New World, blend trippy jams in the iconic style of Gong, Steve Hillage and Ozric Tentacles with the harder-edged, fuzz-heavy suggestions typical of stoner rock – via the subgenre’s founding fathers Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. However, the average first-time listener will not fail to be impressed by the mature, almost understated quality of Dasputnik’s music. Rather than pushing screaming guitars to the forefront in quasi- metal fashion, the riffing is employed judiciously, often kept in the background to add some bite to the other instruments’ mellower, Eastern-tinged efforts. Various percussion instruments, including mallets and tubular bells, join their warm, organic sound to the swirling electronics that are a key ingredient of any self-respecting psych/space band’s toolkit. The impression of naturally flowing smoothness is compounded by the prominent role of Sini’s saxes, occasionally complemented by the solemn voice of the trombone.

While, in compositional terms, the four tracks on Cyclokosmia share the typical features of the subgenre – developing slowly but relentlessly, with instruments playing in parallel and repeating the same tune with minor changes, with a rivetingly hypnotic effect (as exemplified by the stately closing track “Trinity Quadrilogy”) – the music is rendered in surprisingly sophisticated terms, with the instruments contributing their own individual voices, yet striving together to produce a harmonious whole. Sax and electric piano are responsible for injecting hefty doses of heady melody, balancing out the more free-form passages (as in the 12-minute “…Phantom Wakes”, the album’s longest track). Opener “Orbitary Volcano” is introduced by gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios with a faint Spanish flavour, then organ and synth take the lead, alternating with sax and electric guitar. Surprisingly, it is one of the two shorter tracks – the previously mentioned “Cosmic Train to Anticreation” – that packs the most variation in its nearly 8 minutes, juxtaposing harsh, churning guitar riffs with an almost funky bass line, then introducing a brisk, dance-like Eastern European motif as a surprise factor.

Clocking in at under 40 minutes, Cyclokosmia (which was also released as a vinyl LP on the band’s own label, Art Safari Records) combines vintage psychedelic suggestions with thoroughly modern production values that enhance the mix of sophistication and intensity in Dasputnik’s music. While it does not substantially deviate from the well-established psychedelic/space rock canon, the album is nevertheless highly recommended to fans of the subgenre, and it also has the potential to appeal to most lovers of progressive rock, regardless of niches and labels.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/dasputnik

http://equaldreams.com/artsafarirecords

http://eetupellonpaa.deviantart.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Osa Yksi (4:04)
2. Osa Kaksi (4:28)
3. Osa Kolme (4:33)
4. Osa Neljä (4:04)
5. Osa Viisi (5:31)
6. Osa Kuusi (9:39)

LINEUP:
Joonas Hietala – organ, synthesizer, piano, guitar, accordion, percussion, clapping, bass (1)
Vesa Makkonen – bass, voice (4)
Heikki Korhola – drums, clapping
Sini Palokangas  – soprano saxophone, vibraphone, violin, alto saxophone (3), voice (6)
Jussi Hurskainen – alto saxophone
Nico Kanerva – clarinet
Heikki Puska – harp
Janne Vuorensyrjä – turntables

The second part of my mini-feature on modern Finnish bands focuses on the debut album by Helsinki-based ensemble/multimedia art collective Vitkaste, a seven-piece created in 2003 by guitarist/keyboardist Joonas Hietala, bassist Vesa Makkonen and drummer Heikki Korhola. The album’s title, Lestinjoki, comes from the river in western Finland near which Hietala spent the summer of 2008, and wrote most of what would later become the body of Vitkaste’s debut. The composition was then expanded to become a suite in six parts – dubbed “Lestinjoki Electronic Acoustic Symphony” – and the album was released in the early months of 2011.

Clocking in at a mere 32 minutes, Lestinjoki is more of an enhanced EP than an actual full-length album. Though the striking artwork by Joonas Hietala and Eetu Pellonpää might suggest a band steeped in the psychedelic tradition, Vitkaste’s musical offer treads somewhat different territory – an eclectic, lushly arranged concoction that blends smooth jazz-rock with more conventional symphonic prog modes, throwing a hint of chamber rock into the mix. While previous reviewers of the album have drawn comparisons to Camel – especially if the English band’s debut album, with its jazzy overtones, is taken as a frame of reference –the near-legendary Wigwam, one of the trailblazers of the original Finnish prog scene, would also deserve a mention as a model for Vitkaste’s approach.

As Lestinjoki is meant as a single composition, the pauses between the tracks (accordingly named Part 1-6) are nearly imperceptible, creating an impression of remarkable cohesion and fluidity. The music itself is very pleasing to the ear, never jarring or overly convoluted, and its complexity is rendered in subtle shadings rather than dramatic contrasts. Not surprisingly for a piece of music named after a river, the six parts of Lestinjoki flow smoothly and steadily, enhanced by the almost liquid, tinkling sound of instruments like the harp and the vibraphone. Violin and accordion add a touch of sedate, folksy melancholy, while occasional chanting and turntable scratches inject an eerie, faintly disquieting note into the richly orchestral texture of the composition.

Although none of the instruments can be said to dominate, a more focused listen will reveal the discreet yet unmistakable role of the drums in setting the pace and mood of each individual piece, with subtle shifts whose presence may not always be immediately perceived . The guitar also works behind the scenes, only occasionally stepping into the limelight, sometimes providing a more assertive foil to the gentler voice of the piano (as in “Osa  Kuusi”, where the guitar sound is intensified by the use of the wah-wah pedal). On the other hand, sax and clarinet contribute a jazzier feel, at times perhaps a bit too “loungey” for comfort, though the band have mastered dynamics well enough to know when to turn the volume down and go for a more atmospheric mood.

As a whole, Lestinjoki is a solid effort, easy on the ear yet not too streamlined for the demanding tastes of the average prog fan, and short enough to be enjoyed in one sitting without having to push the Pause button. Vitkaste are clearly a talented outfit, and their debut album – though not exactly ground-breaking, and slightly on the derivative side of things – definitely shows the right amount of potential for interesting future developments. However, for the time being, the gorgeous artwork remains Lestinjoki‘s most memorable feature.

Links:
http://vitkaste.net/

http://eetupellonpaa.deviantart.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Koskella (3:50)
2. Isätön Poika (5:03)
3. Valonvaltiatar (4:59)
4. Lintunen (4:10)
5. Kaihomieli (3:45)
6. Suolla (4:17)
7. Aihetta Lauluun (4:22)
8. Pohjalainen Pitkä Poika (3:57)
9. Oivallus (3:49)
10. Virran Mukana (5:24)

LINEUP:
Petri Koivistoinen – guitars, kantele, bass (9), all kinds of gadgets
Nina Hiironniemi – vocals
Mika Hiironniemi – drums, percussion & thingies, keyboards (3, 10)
Pate Laitinen – bass

With:
Janne Haka-Risku – keyboards

This will be the first of a trio of reviews dedicated to new bands from Finland – a country that, in spite of its relative isolation in geographical terms, has earned a place of its own on the contemporary music scene. Though the country is often associated with metal – both of the power/symphonic and the extreme variety – the Land of a Thousand Lakes enjoys a thriving, variegated progressive rock scene, and a very high rate of musical activity (not to mention excellent educational standards) for a population of slightly over 5 million. As I mentioned last year when reviewing Tuvalu’s debut album, I always welcome the opportunity to listen to some new music coming from Finland, on account of my close personal connection with the country. Therefore, once again I thank my good friend, Helsinki-based artist Eetu Pellonpää, for exposing me to some of the bands whose recordings are graced by his distinctive artwork.

Hiidensointi (whose name, meaning “The Voice of Hiisi”, references a nature deity of the ancient Finnish religion) are a quintet based in the thriving city of Tampere, where they were formed in 2007 by guitarist Petri Kivistoinen and drummer Mika Hiironniemi. After the 2010 release of their self-titled debut, the band underwent a line-up change, with keyboardist Janne Haka-Risku leaving the band to be replaced by violinist Petri Ahonen. They also started work on their second album (which should be released some time in 2012), all the while keeping up with their busy performance schedule around the Tampere region.

Though barely known outside Finland, the members of Hiidensointi (as is very often the case with artists from northern Europe) are very accomplished instrumentalists, with a solid  background and plenty of experience. While they call themselves “folk-oriented progressive rock”, their debut album, rather than anything suggesting the complexity or epic sweep of classic prog, is an accessible, song-oriented effort featuring 10 tracks with an average running time of 4 minutes. The folk overtones are not as evident as in the debut album by Positive Wave (a band with a similar musical direction), and always take a back seat to a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure.  On the other hand, recent live recordings of the band reveal that the presence of a violinist lends a more definite folksy tone to their sound, which will probably come to the fore in their second album.

Like Tuvalu and Positive Wave, Hiidensointi sing in their native language – which is likely to be a turn-off for those who think that English is the only suitable medium for music – and are fronted by a female vocalist. Nina Hiironniemi (wife of drummer Mika), who is also responsible for the lyrics, possesses a confident, versatile voice (though not as impressive as Positive Wave’s Susan Karttunen) that avoids the cookie-cutter, saccharine sweetness plaguing many modern prog bands, and tackles the material with considerable assurance. Petri Koivistoinen replaces her in the plaintive “Suolla”, the one track with a clear-cut folk matrix – assisted by the subdued lilt of the kantele, or Finnish zither (the Finnish national instrument, an object of mythical proportions).

As a whole, and right from opening track “Koskella”, Hiidensointi comes across as remarkably catchy and upbeat, often dance-like – almost debunking the myth of the supposedly melancholy nature of Scandinavian music.  The pervasive rumble of the organ, coupled with Petri Koivistoinen’s energetic guitar, inject an unmistakable classic hard rock vibe à la Deep Purple into tracks like “Isäton Poika” and “Kaihomieli”. Suffused with a gentle wistfulness, “Lintunen” showcases Nina Hiironniemi’s vocal dexterity in adopting a deeper, lower register to complement the instrumental mood, and alternating between singing and speaking in the final section of the song.  Album closer “Virran Mukana” marks a distinct change of pace, with Pate Laitinen’s funky bass line beefed up by organ and guitar, reminding me a bit of Camel’s “Summer Lightning” with its hints at Seventies dance music.

Clocking in at a compact 41 minutes, Hiidensointi is a well-crafted debut by a talented band, with plenty of catchy hooks, pleasing melodies and excellent singing. However, it is also not very likely to impress those looking for a musical offer more firmly rooted in the Finnish folk tradition, in the style of an internationally renowned band like Värttinä. In my view, the album would have proved more interesting if it had pursued the route shown by “Suolla” (and hinted at by the mysterious, dark green hue of the artwork), and delved deeper into the fascinating treasure trove of Finnish folklore. Hopefully their forthcoming second album will take a more definite turn in that direction.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/hiidensointi

http://sites.google.com/site/hiidensointi/

http://eetupellonpaa.deviantart.com/

http://www.reverbnation.com/hiidensointi

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