Ah, Finland! When the conversation eventually turns itself to our gruff cousin in the icy north, I'm reminded of...ell, nothing actually. Somehow Finland slipped under the cultural radar unlike ancient noble Norway, swinging, stylish Sweden or groovy, groovy Denmark. But in case you need a couple reasons that this mysterious land shouldn't be blown off the map, here are three redeeming facets:
1. Filmmaker Aki Kaurism?§ki creator of a number of brilliant dour films and most importantly, my (and Jim Jarmusch's) favorite film "Leningrad Cowboys Go America." If you are like me and don't really think the "Blues Brothers" was all that, dial this darkly funny deconstruction of it on the NetFlix and see what the fuss should've been about.
2. Tango. The sturdy and steadfast Finns are into tango. True. I saw it on "60 Minutes."
3. A great tradition of weird music. From those insane shouting choirs of angry men that were making the rounds a couple years ago, to their own contributions to the howling winds of Scandinavian death metal, to a slowly surfacing scene of insular oddball folk music, analogous to the "New Weird America" thing going down right now with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Matt Valentine. And a long running band called Circle that is blowing my mind.
An experimental post-rock unit that has been cranking out the odd jams for over a decade, Circle picks up where experimental greats like Can and Loop left off in their various decades of salient operation. Like the other groups mentioned, Circle knows the value of a great simple riff, repeating that riff while letting interloping weirdness lace through it like a vine, only to find the vine bears the sweetest fruit. Guillotine opens with the epic fusion groove of "Mets?§n Henget" where in its 10+ minute run, a singer intones in what I guess to be a disturbing mix of Finnish and Jibberish, that will at once make you smile and give you the creeps. "Harva Maa" and "Ojaa Pitkin" show off the broken folk side of this immensely versatile group, where they replace the incessant groove of the first track with busted guitars and hand percussion, producing one of thin finest examples of faux Balkan campfire ritual music this side of Polvo offshoot Libraness, and managing to be even more obscure to boot.
Every track on this record is a surprise, the common thread being that they all orbit around a riff. Best example being "Ter?§skylpy" which is a 12 minute exploration of a single punkish beat, intensifying at a glacial pace over its legth into a full frenzy at the end. There are great rumblings from the bowels of Hell (the Norse actually coined the word and concept of Hell in their mythology, except that the original Hell was very cold) with "Majakkasaari." Or in the Sun Ra type racket jams like "Saapuvat Ne Merelt?§" and "Syv?§." Or in plain weird sonic journeys like the looped, distorted moans of "Armo" or even the Bitches Brew trot of the epic "Alta Rautatammien." Its all good. There hasn't been a pulse-worshipping album this varied and this good since the Boredom's Vision Creation Newsun a decade ago. This thing is a sumptuous as the smeary photo booklet printed on photo paper, it just glows. Grab the tail of this strange monster before it slinks back under the murky water from whence it came.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or