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Paavoharju - Yhä hämärää

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Artist: Paavoharju

Album: Yhä hämärää

Label: Fonal

Review date: Sep. 14, 2005

Paavoharju operates out of the eastern Finnish city of Savonlinna, hours away from the other centers of Finnish underground activity. Such geographical distance gives the group ample creative space to pull away from their peers. While many groups in Finland have opted for spontaneous, open-ended structures or abandoned altogether the idea of linear songs, Paavoharju still believes in the comforting confines of verse-chorus-verse, the spell of a memorable melody and the spring of regular rhythms.

They have not, however, completely rejected abstract elements, nor are their songs entirely conventional. Their lyrics are sung in Finnish, but the poplar music of India and Indonesia seeps to the surface in singer Jenni Koivistoinen's snaking, chromatic melodies, transforming the songs into exotica – not bad for Finns. Layered over this syncretism are lapping waves of static, skittering drum machines, and a kaleidoscope of filtered electronic noise, sampled voices and field recordings of nature sounds and church congregation singing, all of which wraps Yhä hämärää up in a cozy, prenatal patchwork quilt.

The album unfolds in a dreamy dub-space, the ambient clamor continually rushing forward to engulf the foreground occupied by the sacred mood and breezy pace. On "Ilmaa virtaa," Koivistoinen's undulating wordless vibrato and a pithy plunking synth arpeggio struggle to keep their heads above waves of whirring breakbeats and shortwave noise. On "Kuu lohduttaa huolestuneitä," glitchy interference pulls out, one by one, the silky threads of piano and voice trying to form song.

More assertive rhythms appear towards the album's close. A chiming guitar cuts a sharp figure on "Kuljin kauas,” but disruptive claws of static are sharper still, leaving scars all over the chorus. A jubilant reggae shuffle and infectious refrain provide a stiff backbone to "Musta katu,” but Toni Kähkönen's distorted voice sounds as if it's being transmitted from another dimension. The tension between noise and song only intensifies as the album progresses, and the whole feels like someone is sitting alone in some isolated cabin, scanning the airwaves for sources of spiritual life.

The electronic haze wafting through Yhä hämmärää is a conceit, one that stylistically unifies songs written and recorded over a four-year period, but it is a conceit that works. Another album of the same might sound contrived, but judging by the fruits on display here, Paavoharju has more than enough songwriting juice for many more mugs of sweet succor.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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