The 10 best Finnish albums of 2016
Several outstanding new releases are around the corner: Astrid Swan’s return, the hard rocking new Them Bird Things album, Mikko Joensuu’s last chapter of the Amen trilogy, another Janne Westerlund dark blues record… However, as usual, I want to dedicate the first post of the year to the best Finnish albums of 2016. Here it goes.
10. The Hearing – Adrian
Ringa Manner, aka The Hearing, goes a long way with resonating beats and mesmerizing layers of vocals. I was taken aback by the intimate and dreamy, yet catchy, electro-pop presented with Adrian.
9. Is This Really Me – The Iron Door
There are days when I want to spend the evening with a well-crafted, heartfelt album. And, that’s exactly what Is This Really Me’s The Iron Door is: a superb collection pop songs with some comforting folk textures.
8. Matti Jasu and the Loose Train – Gone to the Dogs
Matti Jasu’s albums go often unnoticed, but it’s hard not to have a soft spot for his easy-going, guitar-driven, charming pop songs. Plus, the video for What Goes On is simply funstactic.
7. Oddarrang – Agartha
Agartha is the soundtrack of a film yet to be made. Brilliantly blending post-rock, jazz, classical music and some prog, Oddarrang have created a hypnotic cinematic experience.
6. Cats of Transnistria – Divine
These cats’ music might not be love at first listen. Give it time and the enigmatic soundscapes will haunt you forever.
5. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
No matter any X-Factor, Finland is a metal country. On their fourth album, Oranssi Pazuzu expanded its sound beyond the boundaries of black metal -but still the music is obscure and heavy as the darkest night. If you care about it, Värähtelijä got the attention of Pitchfork critics who rated the album with a well-deserved 7.9.
4. Seremonia – Pahuuden äänet
Seromonia’s music comes from a dark place, a very dark place, spooky and frightening. Rising from those spooky corners of the mind, Pahuuden äänet is raw, thrilling heavy psych-rock. A kick in the devil’s guts. It was released in 2016, but it could have been out in 1972 as well.
3. Talmud Beach – Chief
The minimalist blues and the laid-back boogie of this bearded trio was a great companion during the hot summer days. With some of the funniest lyrics this year, Talmud Beach could do no wrong after they sold their hair to the devil and the devil gave them the blues.
2. Black Twig – Blaze on a Plain
Throughout the year I returned to Black Twig’s Blaze on a Plain many, many times. Not only that. I did not get tired of recommending this album to anyone who would listen. Glorious fuzzy guitar pop and excellent songwriting. No filler. Maybe one day, it will be seen as classic Finnish indie album.
1. Mikko Joensuu – Amen 1 & Amen 2
According to most best of the year lists, critics prefer Amen 1, but I’ve listened to the second in the trilogy much more -mostly due to its grandiose rock sound and the epic There Used to Be a Darkness. The truth is that I find very difficult to separate both albums. Amen 1 deals with lost faith, and does it with intimacy and immediacy, using monstly acoustic instruments and folk songs. Amen 2 presents a fuller, brighter sound to reach acceptance, with fuzzy rock guitars, electronic elements, noise and lengthy songs. Both albums are they same album, really. They are part of a continuum which will conclude in a few months with the release of Amen 3. Only then we’ll see the full picture of this magnificent, relevant and beautiful masterpiece.
Astrid Swan – A Long Time Running
Since the death of David Bowie, it seems it’s been all doom and gloom in the music world. Even positive news like Dylan being awarded with the Nobel Prize was met with a great deal of controversy. What happened to music as escapism? Anyway, to shatter negative thinking, I want to celebrate Astrid Swan’s return to music.
For those who do not know, Astrid Swan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in early 2014. A few months ago, she wrote a poignant essay about her struggle with cancer. It’s a brutally honest but inspiring piece of writing, so do yourself a favor and read it.
As she was getting better, Astrid started working on her sixth full-length. In the last months, she’s written, played, recorded, produced and mixed an album which reflects on the aftermath of breast cancer. On her own words “it is about the body; giving birth, becoming a mother, then becoming a patient – becoming a physical body that is defined by medicine, controlled and intervened, unknown and simultaneously more feeling than ever. It’s a pop record about loss, death, grief and hope.”
A Long Time Running is the first track off this upcoming album. It’s a frail song seeking hope through gentle electronic sounds. There’s darkness, but not despair. Astrid choses hope.
The unofficial Slush 2016 playlist
Thousands of entrepreneurs, top-tier investors, tech experts, journalists and curious minds are gathering next week in Helsinki at Slush, one of Europe’s leading startup events. With more than 15,000 attendees from over 100 countries, a vibrant atmosphere, epic late-night parties and food trucks, the event resembles a music festival rather than your usual networking conference. Plus, this year, tech and music are meeting at the parallel event Slush Music.
To soundtrack the event, Nordic Playlist is heading to Helsinki and setting up its famous Radio Bar with live performances and DJs playing the official tunes of Slush. In person or online you can tune to specially made broadcasts exploring the rich musical landscape of the Nordics.
Alternatively, I have a compiled a bunch of songs to present the finest music produced in Finland at the moment . So here it is, the unofficial Slush 2016 playlist. Enjoy!
Delay Trees – Brightest Days
Since the release of their first EP, I have a soft spot for the melancholic pop songs crafted by Delay Trees. Nearly ten years into their career, the dream pop foursome is ready to release their forth album Let Go, sometime in early 2017.
Villa Nah – Spy
On their sophomore album synth-pop duo Villa Nah pay tribute to the 80s with some retro beats. The lead single Spy is based on the theme music by Nicholas Scarim for the 1984 computer game Spy vs. Spy. This is the ultimate anthem for a tech conference.
Talmud Beach – Ain’t So Young
Beer drinkers and hell raisers. From the heartlands of Finland, tongue in cheek, trio Talmud Beach play swampy boogie and lo-fi blues. Facial hair is what counts.
Black Twig – Sunday TV
With a love for end-of-summer melodies and fuzzy guitars, four-piece band Black Twig construct crystalline guitar-driven pop songs. They remind me a bit of Teenage Funclub with a little bit more of noise. Their newest album, Blaze On A Plain, is one of my favorite indie albums ever to come out of Finland.
Mikko Joensuu – There Used To Be A Darkness
If you lose your religion, you might as well go to a cabin and write songs until you have three albums worth of materials. Mikko Joensuu’s solo debut is a trilogy of albums, Amen 1, Amen 2 and Amen 3, composed in the aftermath of losing faith. There Used To Be A Darkness is the centerpiece of part two, an 11-minute epic of guitar noise and steady groove that carries the singer’s emotive voice. Simply brilliant.
Teksti-TV 666 – Silmät Kiini ja Kädet Ristin
Teksti-TV 666 could be the most extravagant band you’ve ever heard. Combining punk and krautrock (krautpunk?) and armed with four, five and at times, six guitars, the band builds a deafening, mesmerizing wall of sound. Hard stuff or as Finns say… kova!
Cityman – Hold On
Electronic pop duo Cityman combine 80s synth pop and modern dance music with the Scandinavian minimalism sensibility. The duo never loses sight of what pop songwriting is and the tunes are tremendously catchy.
Oddarrang – Mass I-III
Led by the genius of drummer Olavi Loihivuori, Oddarrang explores uncharted territories in the intersection of classical music, post-rock and jazz. Cinematic expressions which remind me of other Northern sounds like Sigur Rós.
The Hearing – Backwards
The Hearing is the moniker of singer Ringa Manner, who creates hypnotic loops and harmonies to make your head spin.
Lake Jons – Didn’t Know
Lake Jons play a modern take on folk-rock. Birthed in the Finnish woods, the vocals and harmonies might make you think of Bon Iver’s early work. I’m looking forward to the trio’s debut album, which should come out sometime next year.
Jess and the Ancient Ones – In Levitating Secret Dreams
If you are wondering… yes! There are still plenty of dark hard rock and metal bands in Finland. Jess and the Ancient Ones built on the tradition of 70s psych rock with the purpose of exploring the magical realms beyond the mundane.
Mopo – Beibe
Drawing inspiration from both jazz and punk, Mopo are a pretty funky bass-drums-saxophone trio. The music follows the free flow of jazz, even though things might get a bit anarchic at times.
View – Coldest Season
There’s a strong generation of Finnish rappers nowadays. Many rap in Finnish, but Juuso Ruohonen aka View uses English language and adds a dark tonality to the music that set him apart. Catch him at the Nordic Radio Bar during Slush Music.
K-X-P – Space Precious Time
Like a trance version of Motörhead, electronic rock band K-X-P deconstructs a mind-bending sonic world. Unsettling, dark, their intense live performances push the limits of reality.
Seremonia: Kuoleman planeetta
Heavy psych rockers Seremonia dive deep into the occult with fuzzy guitars, proto metal jams and Finnish lyrics around spiritual cult practices. Spooky and dark as the Finnish November days.
Is This Really Me – The Iron Door
As the dead leaves fall off the trees and darkness stretches for the most part of the day, I find myself longing for some mellow, heartfelt, folky tunes. This why I’m so pleased to stumble upon The Iron Door, the debut album by Helsinki band Is This Really Me (yes, this really is the band’s name). The clean guitars, the soft melodies and vocal harmonies are a ray of sunshine and a warm breeze that will help you through these cold nights. Add to that a few songs tinged with flowering psychedelia thanks to acid organ and spaced-out sounds and it all makes a very compelling album.
The Iron Door is already available on a nice LP/CD combo, featuring a beautiful cover. Listen to a couple of tracks below.
The 11 Best Music Books in My Library
After receiving an advance of more than $10 million, Bruce Springsteen wrote his autobiography, and its publication became one of the biggest music events this autumn. In Finland, mega star Cheek just published an official biography. At 34. And, another rapper, Paperi T put out a poetry book a few weeks ago. There are more music books than ever, providing musicians with another source of income.
I can see why. I look at my bookshelf and realise I’ve gathered a good collection of music books over the years. As I start reading Springsteen’s book, this is a good time to rate the music books in my library.
Disclaimer: Obviously, I’m missing many good books, I have plenty of them in my to-read list: the classic punk chronicle Please Kill Me, Patti Smith’s books, Keith Richards’ Life… There’s still plenty to read.
But right here, right now, there are the 11 greatest music books in my library.
11. Searching for the Sound – Phil Lesh
A first-hand account of The Grateful Dead saga as narrated by bass player Phil Lesh. Honestly written, the book does not avoid darker years whilst offering enough depth on the music and how the band searched for the sound.
10. Fargo Rock City – Chuck Klosterman
This books represents whole generation, a generation of socially awkward teenagers who grew up in the eighties and spent too much time watching late night MTV and listening to hair metal bands. With a witty voice and semi-autobiographical digressions and tangents, Chuck Klosterman describes, discusses and analyses Poison, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, and a bunch of long-haired geniuses.
9. Things the Grandchildren Should Know – Mark Oliver Everett
Not your usual rock memoirs. Singer, songwriter, leader of The Eels, Mark Oliver Everett (aka E.) didn’t live the sixties, or the seventies for that matter, and was barely 45 when he wrote this book. But E. has some stories to tell beyond rock. It begins with the death of his parents at an early age and an unsteady upbringing. Wise, tremendously touching, the book reads like a roller-coaster ride. Whether you like or care about The Eels, this is essential reading.
8. Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements – Bob Mehr
There are two definitive books about the two most dysfunctional, fucked up bands ever. One is Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt and the other is Trouble Boys. The Dirt is a fantastic read, with plenty of WTF moments. But I like The Replacements better so I decided to include Trouble Boys in this list. The book is a thorough, very detailed account of the band’s story. Maybe the style is a bit too serious at times, at least compared to The Dirt.
7. Waging Heavy Peace/Special Deluxe – Neil Young
Neil Young published his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace and just months later, he decided he still had things to say, stories inspired by his car collection. This way we got a biography (of sorts) in two volumes. Neither of the books provide much insight into Young’s career, but both are surprisingly fun to read. He adopts a very conversational tone and informally talks about his life and obsessions: model trains, cars (lots of them), dogs, music player Pono, mp3s, constructing an electric car, and yes, some music, too. This is the closest you will get to sit down with the man, share a joint and hear some stories.
6. Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion – Robert J. Gordon
Stax Records put out the most thrilling soul music in the sixties and early seventies, from Sam & Dave and Otis Redding to Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers. In merely a decade and a half, the label saw success and failures, created stars, reinvented itself a couple of times and ultimately, faced bankruptcy, all while Memphis underwent the a race battle. In this book, the author chronicles the label and the city creating a captivating narrative which could serve well as the basis of a Martin Scorsese movie.
5. Last Train to Memphis/Careless Love – Peter Guralnick
The biggest rock star ever deserves a greatest biography ever. In over 1300 pages, Peter Guralnick guides us through every aspect of Elvis’ life: family, girls, recording sessions, movies. Detailed, unbiased, revealing.
4. Mystery Train – Greil Marcus
This book changed the way of writing about rock. With it, rock took the classroom. It’s the author’s vision on American culture through a series of pieces on Robert Johnson, Randy Newman, Sly & The Family Stone. Terribly academic, the book’s become the bible of rock criticism. The kind of book you take with you when you want to impress your date. Like in a Woody Allen movie.
3. Lost Highway – Peter Guralnick
Peter Guralnick is one of the best-known scholars of rock and Lost Highway is one of his most important works. In it, he depicts the lives and works of the artist who shaped traditional American music as we know it today. It includes stories on Merle Haggard, Howlin’ Wolf, Charlie Rich, Ernest Tubb and less known artist like Jimmy Martin. Guralnick’s writing is beautiful, vivid and artists are intimately observed.
2. Chronicles, volume 1 – Bob Dylan
Atypical, evasive, yet revealing. Just like Bob Dylan. Not linear, the first volume of Dylan’s memoirs concentrate just on three peculiar moments, and ignores the better known moments in the singer’s life. Still waiting for volume 2.
1. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung – Lester Bangs
No other writer has captured the language of rock’n’roll like Lester Bangs did during his short career. Acid, hard-edge, razor-sharp, insolent… Bangs’ writing walks a thin line between drunkenness and hangover. In this collection of articles published on Creem, Village Voice and others until his death in 1982, Bangs uses his oneiric, meth-fueled prose to write about his continuous dialectic fights with Lou Reed, argument his love for Reed’s Metal Machine Music and punk, or describe the night he took his typewriter to the stage to write during an encore of the J. Geils Band.
Clunks – Have a Heart
Fairly often I just want to hear a high energy song, one of those tunes you listen on a Monday morning to boost your energy and complement your cup of coffee. That’s exactly the kind of sound alt-rockers Clunks present on their debut single called Have a Heart. As the blurb says the band’s music encompasses melodic guitar lines, fast-paced drum beats and sing-along vocals. Simple as that.
This is a promising debut, with an outstanding, let’s-have-fun chorus. I hope Clunks will soon release some music.