It's a shame that the term "free folk" has been employed as a crutch to describe various rural dwelling musicians who all happen to make improvisational psych with a covert touch of American roots music, or idiosyncratic singer-songwriters whose sounds sometimes seem to hail from another, perhaps alternate era. Because the phrase truly belongs to abstract Finnish multi-instrumentalist Laura Naukkarinen (a.k.a Lau Nau). The three years since her debut, Kuutarha, have found her relocating to rural western Finland in order to raise her newborn son, and no doubt both place and motherhood affect the music on Nukkuu, an album of seemingly random placidity.
With musical assistance from her partner, Antti Tolvi, and traditional Finnish bowed lyre player Pekko Kappi, Naukkarinen––again playing at least 50 instruments, including juice glasses and fart whistle––approaches music as found sound. She mixes Estonian field recordings, toy piano samples, snippets of conversation, and church bells into noises as gentle and suggestive as that of a rose petal being plucked. Her use of drones is pervasive yet subtle, ultimately wandering with the tunes more than guiding them, making everything she touches some sort of fragmented lullaby or a recording of dreams. To say Nukkuu is the most gorgeous, meditative album ever made wouldn't be hype.
"Painovoimaa, valoa," with Kappi's lyre and layers of wordless vocals, is––to use a simple term effectively––peaceful. Like much of the music here, it seems to crawl out of itself, finally arriving at a fully formed song near its end. In fact Naukkarinen's vocals throughout much of this album are overdubbed in soft layers, weaving in and out and making room for other instruments. What underpins most of the tracks are a few chords or a melody, plucked on some odd ukulele or nylon-stringed guitar, snuggling under drones produced by bowed instruments or a distant organ. However, on "Lahtolaulu," she turns to a heavily distorted electric guitar and builds up a repetitive racket, giving the heavy grooves laid down by Mauritanian guitarist Hamadi Ould Nana a run for their money without sacrificing an iota of the bliss she's sustained.
Using odd instruments to make improvisational sounds and rhythms is hardly radical, but making music as compelling as the stuff on this CD will never cease to be. No doubt Naukkarinen, and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, some of her Finnish musical mates (such as Kemialliset Ystävät) are ever so unwearily taking pop music out way past the song. May they never bring it back.