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Paavoharju - Laulu Laakson Kukista

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Artist: Paavoharju

Album: Laulu Laakson Kukista

Label: Fonal

Review date: Jul. 15, 2008

If anyone is still laboring under the misconception that Fonal Records is just a refuge for folky freaks, this record will set them straight. Depending on where you drop the needle on Paavoharju’s second long player, you might hear rinky-dink synth pop, ersatz-Asian pop, Ariel Pink-style 8-track disco, church music heard from the back pew, or world-weary chanson d’art, all covered with a thick patina of static.

Given their rampant exoticism, restless eclecticism, and the fact that at the variably sized combo’s core is a pair of brothers who have made it a point to proclaim their devout Christianity on their MySpace page, it’s tempting to speculate that this what the Sun City Girls could have been if the Bishop brothers grew up in Finland instead of Michigan and they had rejected the Dark Side of The Force. But it’s far more likely that this is just the natural consequence of living in a post-Boards Of Canada world where the background can overtake the foreground at any moment and a distressed veneer evokes an aura of dreamy nostalgia for a perfect world that never was. In Paavoharju’s perfect world, Kate Bush voices the romantic themes in Bollywood movies, calliope melodies waft from the radiator’s steam valve, and dance beats crafted on dad’s tool bench pulse out of an AM radio that never quite grabs hold of the station.

The group did a creditable job of realizing this vision on their 2005 album Yhä Hämärää, but Lauri and Olii Ainala and their confederates are much more successful here. They’ve taken the faux-distressed production much further, zapping not just the voices but nearly every instrument and field recording with transistor distortion and electrical crackle.

But it has to be said that sound trumps songwriting. Since all the singing is in Finnish, you won’t be distracted by bum lyrics, but neither will you be moved by any great lines. The melodies are pleasant, but not exactly indelible; for example, it’s the recordings of geese and the quiver in Jenni Koivistoinen’s voice that carry “Sumuvirsi,” not the melody. Laulu Laakson Kukista is quite nice, but rather insubstantial.

By Bill Meyer

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