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Kiila - Tuota tuota

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Artist: Kiila

Album: Tuota tuota

Label: Fonal

Review date: Sep. 2, 2009

How we listen to popular as well as experimental music is well established. A personality or a back story to interpret the music through (Dylan going electric, say, or Lou Reed ‘inventing’ noise), a historical lineage or genre pedigree to place it in ("...sounds like..."), our own personal memories ("I first heard this piece when...") – these are the stuff of modern listening habits. When listening to Kiila, none of these devices come easily to mind, which makes their music especially problematic to interpret.

The Finnish ensemble, now on its third full length, doesn’t have one central personality driving it, despite its relatively stable line-up. They can’t be said to play Finnish folk music, despite their use of traditional instruments like the kantele (the Finnish zither) and the jouhikko (the Finnish spike fiddle). Nor are they making overly popular or experimental music, despite their strong melodies, articulated rhythms and fondness for passages of creaking drones and cluttered improvisation. And in the recent attention on all things Finnish, they have stayed more in their shadows than units like Avarus, Kemialliset ysätävät and Islaja, despite sharing members with them. What is Kiila, then? Kiila is collective, Kiila is egalitarian, so personalities blend out of necessity, and diverse ideas emerge only if they serve the general direction of the ensemble.

This collectivity shows in everything the group does, from the liner notes to the arrangements. Everyone who participated in the record (six core members and seven collaborators) is specified, but what they did and on which of the album’s seven songs they did it, isn’t. It’s not the individual contribution that counts; it’s the overall result.

The arrangements, too, are studies in democratic music making. There are no solos, the vocals are always sung in unison (the sole exception being Laura Naukkarinen’s sweetly narcotic vocal on "Niin kuin puut") and a handful of instruments, electric and acoustic, always seem to be playing. Organs, electric bass and guitar, a full drum kit and assorted electronics share equal space with the acoustic folk instruments, flutes, harmonium and a bevy of small noisemakers.

Kiila’s greatest coup, however, is shoehorning genuine song craft into this mix without upsetting the balance. In its eight minutes, the robust "Portaissa" travels from an emphatic shout-down groove to a dense psychedelic rave-up and back again. A surprising double-time refrain energizes "Kehotuslaulu," turning it from a stinging complaint into something all together more dangerous. Just as impressive, but more nuanced is album opener, "Viisi hirvasta." For its first half it’s a hypnotizing instrumental built from plangent strings, stray percussion, and a recurring melody on the bass, until a half-chanted/half-sung passage emerges near its conclusion, making you wonder if it started life as a song, a poem or a jam.

Tuota tuota is full of moments like these, where you have to question how it is your listening, as all your usual hierarchies are upended and genres turned on their heads. That you at first don’t quite realize Kiila is doing this is remarkable; that they make it seem so natural is even more so.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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