Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Finnish’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Helmi (5:52)
2. Huominen Ei Lopu Koskaan (6:01)
3. Utuinen (4:10)
4. Sumuista Metsää (3:57)
5. Siniset Laineet (5:47)
6. Valkoinen Huone (4:07)
7. Kauan (5:11)
8. Päivä Kerrallaan (4:31)
9. Elämä (5:09)
10. Yli Niittyjen (5:18)
11. Viimeistä Iltaa (4:26)

LINEUP:
Susan Karttunen – vocals
Jani Häggblom – keyboards, backing vocals
Pekka Kalliosuo – guitars
Ayhan Akgez – bass
Henri Tuomi – drums
Sini Palokangas – saxophone, vibes, violin
Henri Onodera – percussion

As pointed out at the beginning of the previous review, Positive Wave and Tuvalu share quite a few features: they are both based in Helsinki, have female vocalists, and sing in Finnish rather than the ubiquitous English. Here, however, the similarities end, because Positive Wave is definitely a different beast. There is nothing whatsoever that might remind the listener of Tuvalu’s brooding intensity on Positive Wave’s debut album, but rather a triumph of upbeat rhythms, joyful vocal performances and plenty of melody, with liberal sprinklings of folk and jazz influences that bring to mind other eclectic Finnish outfits like Piirpauke and Värttinä.

Though they have been around, in different incarnations, since 1998, this album is Positive Wave’s recording debut, released in 2010 when the band – always very active on the live front in their native country – finally found a stable line-up. Now a seven-piece, besides the more traditional rock instrumentation they also include saxophone and violin, like a mini-orchestra. As is the case of most Finnish bands, the collective musicianship is excellent, but the band’s real strength is undoubtedly Susan Karttunen’s stunning voice. While resembling Tuvalu’s Annina Antinranta’s  in pitch and tone, Susan’s singing approach is quite different, and fits the band’s musical direction like a glove.

When I first heard Positive Wave, I superficially thought they sounded like an above-average pop band rather than a prog one. Although subsequent listens  changed my opinion of the album, there is no denying that it is indeed very much a song-oriented effort. The songs, on the other hand, in some ways differ from the standard format. Some of them are downright infectious, and the overall mood of the album – reflecting the band’s name – is upbeat and uplifting, debunking the all too common myth of  the morose Finns. With a beautiful yet simple cover that hints at the love of nature that is deeply rooted in the Finnish psyche (also referenced in many of the song titles), the album comes across as a celebration of life – and one of the songs is in fact called “Elämä”, which in Finnish means “life”.

In spite of the catchy, song-oriented nature of the album, those features so highly prized by progressive rock fans lurk in the instrumental parts, while Susan Karttunen’s vocals blend jazz, pop, folk and even soul stylings in a heady mixture that cannot fail to captivate lovers of great singing. The unmistakable sound of vintage keyboards interacting with fluid, melodic electric guitar bring to mind Canterbury bands, especially Caravan (as my friend Torodd Fuglesteg pointed out in his review of the album), and the addition of sax  and violin enriches the sound and enhances the jazzy nature of some of the arrangements. There are no lengthy numbers of staggering complexity: the individual members’ skills are conveyed in a subtle, tasteful fashion, best exemplified by the twists and turns of the longest track, “Huominen Ei Lopu Koskaan” (Tomorrow Never Ends), a jazzy offering chock full of great keyboard and sax passages, brisk percussion, muted guitar, and, of course, excellent vocals.

While Opener “Helmi” (Pearl) leans more towards the folksy side of things, with jangling, Celtic-tinged guitar, “Valkoinen Huone” (White Room) is an elegant number with echoes of Steely Dan’s classy style, especially in the opening section, and “Siniset Laineet” (Blue Waves) brings back comparisons with Caravan’s unique mix of accessibility and progressive sensibilities. As can be expected, not all of the 11 tracks are equally successful, and towards the end the album tends to drag a bit, especially as the material becomes more subdued and even slightly monotonous. Closing number “Viimeistä Iltaa” (Last Evening), however, though uncharacteristically subdued and melancholy, is in my view a good choice to wrap up the album, and the combination of violin and Susan’s delicate vocals sounds especially poignant.

Though not perfect, and a tad naïve at times, Positive Wave is a very interesting proposition for those who enjoy song-based prog as well as its more complex manifestations. While there is clearly some filler material, and – while not long for today’s standards – the album might have benefited from some trimming, the strengths of the band come across quite clearly, and their obvious enthusiasm and positive attitude (pardon the pun) bodes very well for the future. An intriguing find, and a must for fans of female vocals.

Links:
http://www.positivewave.net

http://www.myspace.com/positivewave

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Tulevien Aikojen Luurangot (3:56)
2. Parahin Nikola (5:02)
3. – (3:05)
4. Pimeys On Ystävä (12:59)
5. Tulvien Jälkeen (4:24)
6. Fantasmagoria (10:18)
7. Valkoinen Sumu Nousee (5:24)
8. Pakenevan Veden Voima (8:32)

LINEUP:
Annina Antinranta – vocals
Antti Harmainen – guitars
Jussi Oskari – bass, bass pedals
Jussi Matikainen  – drums

Though at least nominally part of the celebrated Scandinavian scene,  Finland has always been somewhat of a mysterious object in the European context, especially as regards progressive rock.  In comparison with neighbouring Sweden, Finland seems to be better known for its wealth of metal bands – both of the extreme and the symphonic persuasion (names like Amorphis or Nightwish come to mind). On the other hand, the country’s contribution to the progressive movement should not be discounted – with Seventies bands such as Tasavallan Presidentti, Wigwam and Finnforest, as well as its later contribution to the RIO/Avant scene with iconic acts such as Höyry-Kone and their offshoot Alamaailman Vasarat. Thanks to Finland’s thriving cultural milieu, the level of musicianship of Finnish bands and artists is also quite high, and homegrown acts are likely to receive quite a lot of attention, in spite of the pervasive presence of mass-produced music from the English-speaking world.

Between the mid-Nineties and the beginning of the 21st century, I spent almost six years in Finland, which will always hold a special place in my heart. It has therefore been a pleasure for me to review the two CDs that, at the end of last year, were brought to my attention by my friend Eetu Pellonpää. Although both of these bands might be easily defined as obscure, their albums offer as much interesting material as those released by higher-profile acts. In spite of their obvious musical differences (which will clearly emerge from my reviews), they have something in common besides their geographical provenience: they both have female vocalists, and they both sing in their native language – a language that, like Italian, is vowel-rich and adapts very well to being put to music.

A quartet currently based in the Helsinki area, Tuvalu (called after German director Veit Helmer’s 1999 movie of the same name) have been around since 2003, and released three albums  In spite of that, they seem to have flown almost completely under the radar of the numerous online publications dedicated to progressive rock. Though released in the early months of 2010, their eponymous third album has been reviewed mainly on Finnish websites, and a Google search turned out only a couple of comments on English-language sites. Tuvalu’s music, however, holds quite a few elements of interest for open-minded prog fans – the kind who do not balk at interpretations of the prog ‘language’ that differ from  the traditional symphonic one. Indeed, from what can be heard on this album, Tuvalu’s sound owes much more to The Mars Volta than to Yes or Genesis, though the influence of Rush and King Crimson can also be clearly detected. The presence of a female vocalist with a strong personality like Annina Antinranta is an added bonus. Annina (who is also responsible for the lyrics) is not an over-the-top soprano in the mould of her celebrated fellow Finn Tarja Turunen, but her commanding, confident voice can handle a variety of moods and styles.

All of the tracks on Tuvalu feature vocals, with the exception of the untitled ‘ghost track’ occupying the third slot, which is also the album’s only instrumental. With two tracks clocking in at over 10 minutes, and another at 8, there is plenty of ‘epic’ material to please those who are not satisfied by shorter, snappier offerings. At 58 minutes, the overall running time is quite restrained for these times, and allows listeners to take in the music without weariness setting in halfway through the album. Though the music as a whole tends to be somewhat on the aggressive side, with a powerful rhythm structure and supercharged riffing, the overall effect is nicely balanced by moments when the instruments create haunting, rarefied atmospheres with a definite psychedelic bent.

As previously suggested, the blueprint is The Mars Volta’s blend of hardcore aggression, wistful, Latin-tinged melodies and trippy electronic moods, with more than a hint of the steely, streamlined approach of King Crimson from the ‘80s onwards, as well as Rush’s marriage of accessibility and complexity. Opener “Tulevien Aikojen Luurangot” (Skeletons of the Future) combines a simmering sense of tension with rhythmic explosions that push the drums at the forefront; Annina Antinranta delivers her own dark, somewhat skewed lyrics with remarkable clarity and self-assurance. In the following number, “Parahin Nikola”, the intensity is tempered by more sedate instrumental breaks punctuated by spacey sound effects. The latter are the undisputed protagonists of the ‘ghost track’, which distinctly brings to mind the ‘noise’ sections of The Mars Volta’s 2005 album Frances the Mute.

In typical rollercoaster-ride style, the epic “Pimeys on Ystävä” (Darkness Is a Friend) – a tad patchy, yet fascinating – alternates bursts of manic energy with slower, more subdued passages that showcase Annina’s vocal versatility; the insistent, interlocking guitar lines conjure strong echoes of King Crimson circa Discipline. The second epic, “Fantasmagoria”, throws some doomy, Sabbath-like moments into its frantic, riff-driven, Rush-meets-TMV fabric. “Valkoinen Sumu Nousee” (White Fog Rises) features shouting, punk-like vocals before calming down a bit, while “Tulvien Jälkeen” (After the Floods) reveals the melodic, atmospheric side of the band, with muted vocals and measured, bell-like guitar sounds.

From the above description, it should be clear enough that fans of the more melodic incarnations of prog might find Tuvalu not exactly to their taste. Anything sporting a strong Mars Volta influence is bound to come across as an acquired taste – with the added drawback of vocals in a language that, for most people, is nothing short of impenetrable, and distinctive, grey-hued artwork that seems to reflect the brooding quality of the music. On the other hand, open-minded lovers of progressive music might do worse than to give this album a listen, and possibly more than one. Tuvalu can definitely hold their own on the ‘modern prog’ scene, and deserve far more exposure than they have got so far.

Links:
http://www.tuvalu.ws

 

Read Full Post »