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Islaja - Palaa aurinkoon

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Artist: Islaja

Album: Palaa aurinkoon

Label: Fonal

Review date: Jun. 16, 2005

When I interviewed Arttu Partinen and Jan Anderzen, two members of the Finnish underground, they used the Finnish words, vakava and tosissaan, to explain a distinction in the music made by the likes of Avarus and Kemialliset Ystävät. Vakava translates best as serious, and tosissaan as earnest. For them, and others in the loose network of Finnish collectives, they make music in the spirit of tosissaan without being vakava. In other words, there are earnest in intention, but light-hearted in spirit.

Merja, otherwise known as Islaja, also takes part in Avarus, among others. Palaa aurinkoon, her second album for Fonal records, feels, however, decidedly vakava. The 11 songs here feature stark arrangements, centered on the uncertain, multi-tracked wavering of Islaja’s voice, which delivers the obtuse, broken heap of images of her lyrics. She rambles through territory similar to her debut, Meritie, as birds, mountains, clouds, the sun, the sea, waves and the beach make up her textual geography.

Her texts resound solemnly, the tone one of supplication and prayer. Album opener “Laivat saapuu (Boats arrive)” borrows its diction from the Finnish language version of the Lord’s Prayer. Over a clanging melody of bells and piano she half-chants, half-sings, Aamen, aamen ja vielä aamen/ laivat saapuu/ isä meidän, the last phrase meaning “Our Father.” The title of the album closer, “Rukous,” translates simply as “Prayer.” On it she pleas, Suuri valo / anna meidän elämämme olla valoa (Great light, let our lives be light). Unlike the playful titles and lyrics of Kemialliset Ystävät and The Anaksimandros, Islaja wants her words to communicate. Printed lyrics are even included here, but unfortunately non-Finnish speakers get left out, as no translations are provided.

Playing nearly all of the instruments herself, Islaja deftly mirrors the simple, sacred overtones of the lyrics. The instrumental “Rukki” sprouts from a cyclical four-syllable phrase of vowel sounds and a plangent half-chord on acoustic guitar. On “Sateen tullessa,” flickering tangles of organ and electric guitar swirl about each other. The title track scampers with busy hand claps, while a melodica adds shades of dread and a bell tinkles unsteadily.

Since so many of the songs on Palaa aurinkoon strive for somber atmosphere, they live and die by Islaja’s aesthetic of haphazardness. “Senkun tanssitaan” meanders pointlessly, the emphatic spoken vocals lost in ambient noise. But, when she does capture, hold and grow an atmosphere, she holds the listener rapt as well.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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