Not all of Stereogum’s favorite sounds conform to what folks expect us to cover. In this space, resident Bananafish fetishist Brandon Stosuy focuses on bands, albums, singles, and villages in Sweden that may otherwise pass by unnoticed. This installment’s virtual milk crate contains Black Water, Shogun Kunitoki, and Vuk.
I made the “joke” about villages in Sweden in the above column blurb because I do think it’s important to get out of what we perceive as the usual cultural capitals to find music. Of course, Sweden’s a bad choice because it seems like every town in Sweden churns out pop (and death metal) heroes left and right. How about Finland? My fascination with that country’s music is broad, but can be boiled down to a few things: (1) Extreme metal from Azaghal to Wyrd and everything letter in between (but lately mostly Rotten Sound, Impaled Nazarene, and Hooded Menace) (2) the uncategorizable Circle (3) Humppa Metal (OK, you get the idea) (4) my discovery and obsession with Fonal and various scene-associated labels a few years ago. (Kemialliset Ystävät, Avarus, Islaja, Kuupuu, Lau Nau, Es, Kiila, Pekko Käppi, etc.) At the time, I did some sort of massive roundup and a live review and reviews of associated albums. More recently, I covered Fonal artist Eleanoora Rosenholm in this column and Lau Nau in Quit Your Day Job. But I went to Finland last week as part of a conference to save the music industry called Is This It?. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to save anything (I’m no hero), but I went largely so I could expand my idea of Finland’s musical landscape beyond the aforementioned metal and this one particular scene (and to eat reindeer, and to eat in a castle, of course). It was a great trek (besides the Salmiakki) full of great people and some interesting artists, two of whom tie into what I was already into, and one that’s taken me someplace else.
I reviewed Shogun Kunitoki’s Tasankokaiku three years ago, so this clearly wasn’t a ‘discovery.’ More a reminder. Like the last time, their sophomore album Vinonaamakasio includes amazing psychedelic organ tones, fuzz, ring modulators, and those driving Kraut-y drums. It’s still all instrumental, but feels darker. Take a listen to the aptly titled “Fuzzabeth Crackleby.” The album patches together into a seamless 35-minute whole, so this will feel a tad fragmented, but it should give you an idea.
Vinonaamakasio is out via Fonal. Also in a psychedelic mode is the band of Pekka Laine, a nice guy I met at the conference and who engaged me in countless more-than-worthwhile discussions about Finnish metal, noise, pop, etc., as well as putting me in touch with the guy behind Cobra Records. Thing is, he only mentioned in passing that he played guitar in a band (Hypnomen), so I didn’t think too much of it until this MP3 showed up in my inbox. It’s not his usual group — it’s a makeshift project called Black Water that includes Pekka on guitar and bass, his 17-year-old son on drums, and Circle’s Jussi Lehtisalo doing the rest, including improvisational (black metal-style) vocals in an invented language. It was recorded, in Pekka’s words, “in a cottage in the middle of nowhere (except by the sea).”
Black Water – “Abyss” (MP3)
Then comes Vuk, 27-year multi-instrumental Finnish-American Emily Cheeger, an ex-Dirty Projector (she sang on The Getty Address, did various singing percussion from 2002-2005), who currently plays a pump organ (and half a dozen instruments) while belting out vocals that can be beautifully fragile and beautifully taunting and, in general, always straight-up powerful. She gave me a copy of her second full-length The Plains after I caught her set at Semifinal in Helsinki. On stage she’s joined by a drummer and a harmonium playing backup vocalist. Or she goes it alone with the aforementioned organ. On the album, she’s backed by an army of 20 performers. She arranges everything, though she told me she’s working with longtime PJ Harvey producer Rob Ellis on new material and, with his help, plans to move in a more minimal direction. For now, it’s not at all minimal — a huge part of its charm. It’s ambitious music that takes a few listens. But, no, it’s not “World Music.” As Cheeger notes at her MySpace:
Just for the record: I want absolutely NOTHING to do with the mushy, vague, insipid, exploitative, bastardizing marketing term that is “World Music.”
Fair enough. What her music does have to do with is “inner, fictional landscapes, gardens, carnivals, funerals and sub-marine territory.” She goes on to say The Plains were “fueled by dreams, musings, memories and spaghetti Westerns.” And spirits. I chose this one because the backing organs go well with the sounds that precede it in the column, but I went back and forth on a handful of tracks.
The Plains is out 4/22 in Scandinavia via Johanna Kustannus. It’s impossible to get more than a passing glimpse with one song. You can check out more of her work, including “Flint In The Pines” and “Gramophone & Periscope” at MySpace. Also, search out the saxophone whirlwind of “Kiss The Assassin.”
Finally, if you’re not doing anything on Easter, please stop by Public Assembly (70 North 6th) this Sunday (4/12) to see Genghis Tron, Tombs, Wetnurse, and Black Anvil as part of the ongoing monthly Show No Mercy metal series I’m organizing. There’s more info and a very pink flyer at the venue’s site. Maybe I’ll even bring some evil hard-boiled eggs.