It would be easy to give in and hang the music on Hertta Lussu Ässä’s debut with the dubious label of “mysterious.” It has all the signifiers: open-ended song forms, a scattering of both cheap and unidentifiable instruments, spectral wordless vocals, hushed dynamics. But that label is overrated, expressing an acceptance of music that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s also just too easy to evoke a passable, familiar idea of mystery. Which the trio of Laura Naukkarinen (Lau Nau), Jonna Karanka (Kuupuu) and Merja Kokkonen (Islaja) frequently do. They rely a lot on vocal loops, reverb and digital delay, wrapping them around meandering, wrong-note melodies on the piano, dreamy synth chords, and some bowed string interaction. Their touch and interplay is delicate, effortless even, and it all seems spontaneous. The problem is that this delicacy comes off as hesitance and insecurity, and the mystery they evoke is thin and predictable.
But to write off HLA as one-dimensional would be to miss the potential here. Among the veneer of loops and reverb, there’s another, altogether more unique album hiding. It’s there in glimpses, like in the capture of informal banter at the opening of the second track or the entrance of cooing, untreated vocals about halfway through the final piece.
The second piece especially explores this uncharted area, with the banter giving way to percussive chatter from what sounds like a host of household items. Even the room ambiance is layered for a warmth the other pieces lack. Instead of foggy-headed mystery, it evokes a lively domesticity, in all its energy, hustle and bustle. It’s the same energy, intimacy and surreal drama that artists like Kommisar Hjuler & Mama Bär and Graham Lambkin so effortlessly tap into. All three artists involved here possess their own idiosyncratic styles of singing/speaking. It’s a shame they so often seem content to let something else do the talking.