VERDE: “Vuoronumero” ****

Recorded 2003

 

 

Tampere-based Nokia’s engineer Mika Rintala debuted in mid-1990s, but for years remained an unsung hero of DIY circuit electronics.  But recognition finally came.  His preference for often bulky analog devices set him apart from the generation of digital manipulators and yielded unusually temperate, alluringly corpuscular auralscapes. 

 

Elements of his compositions appear modular.  Under moniker Verde, Rintala frequently incorporated inspiring field recordings.  His injections of such material are unusually mellifluous, eschewing the pitfalls of the familiar extrema: the dogmatic lessons of musique concrète and the showy interjections so typical of sound expansions in contemporary pop music. 

 

The utilization of self-made devices and hybrid instruments led him to experimentation with sonic capabilities of home appliances.  And yet, the results are invariably warm and well-rounded – unlike anything achieved by Anglo Saxon post-industrial combos of the early 1980s. 

 

Rintala has been active in other Finnish formations, not least the neo-kraut apostles Circle and post-funk amalgam Ektroverde. 

 

 

Paskaralla kolmen metrin kulmakarvat

The opening guitar chords hang loosely in a somewhat Gallic manner.  This unassuming introduction dusts off the memory of Ilitch’s and Philippe Doray’s classics, but it’s the hoarse trombone solo that refocuses our attention.  Handled with grace by Markku Veijonsuo, the valve pace is steady, unhurried, relaxed.  A throaty electric guitar instantly broadens the increasingly spacious limits, with effects evoking the Fripp and Eno’s operations.  Close to the top of its natural range, the trombone assumes a secondary role, snaking with agility among the ever denser guitar oscillations, probably courtesy Jyrki Laiho.

 

Veron saa maksaa ensimmäisenä arkipäivänä

Birds chirp and chickens cluck in this, somewhat tentative, juxtaposition of sequenced ‘cosmic’ glissandos and natural sounds.  Another layer of electronics unconvincingly saturates the images of bucolic muck with children’s voices.  A resolution comes with deformed scat intervention, masterfully morphed into the sound of muted cornet.  Recurring buzz keeps us company, ensuring continuity and the unsettling cornet/scat transmutations reverse seamlessly.  The sequenced reliability of the electronic bleeps ushers in lithe, serene notes from a crisp acoustic guitar.  Were it not for the ‘scat’ and ‘zibilant’ woozing, the sequence could be even categorized as dreamlike.  Somewhere, lurking in the shadow, a grippy fraction of electric guitar is lying at the ready, never to be utilized. 

 

Plusssakortti

More forest warble and playground din fuse with ethereally distant folk songs.  Summertime furikin chimes successfully sustain the atmosphere of sun-drenched ‘farniente’.  But all too soon a gusty rhythm machine and tube-emulated guitar crash in on this premature ode to relaxation.  A brilliant chromatic harmonica (Yrjänä Sauros) enhances the game of contrasts, aided by a liquid guitar solo of quasi-Rypdalian quality.  The oral manipulation of harmonica’s edges leads to disturbing pitch bending.  The tempo is hasty, propelled by the pulsing rhythm machine. 

 

Vuoronumero

The title track begins with a scale testing on an unidentified string instrument (a high-resonance zither? Or is it a harp?).  After an intermezzo of environmental sounds (crockery and a meowing feline), a sequenced sweeping sound offers plush surrounding to whispered recitation.  Delicately brushed cymbals, zither strings, electronic shuffling and occasional electric organ ensure that we never tire of the ever-changing tapestry.  Throughout, a muffled trumpet brings back a definitively ‘retro’ ambience.  The organization of the composition and its calligraphic motif carefully balance between illustration and abstraction, reminding me of Area’s “Citazione de George L. Jackson”, even though Verde’s voice treatment is less invasive.  Prepared piano keys and impromptu woodpecking close the passage on a high note.

 

Kalvosinnapeilla voi tehdä vaitukutsen

Preparative checks on some rudimentary machinery elicit little more than jingle-like inanity.  Luckily, a colossal arsenal of martial drums brings a shift in the mood, connoting a sense of solemn determination.  Short excerpts of spoken phrases cut into this fabric, as shreds from the intro are being revisited in ever fading loops.  The fleet drumming is parched and – despite some time modulation – never overwhelming.  The guitar lines endure, ribboned together with downy electronic softness.  The author mutters something almost word by word, depriving the message of regular speech rhythm.  The result is painfully human. 

 

Pintamuoti

Exploratory guitar hesitations interact gently with electronic blanketing.  Somewhere, a door opens; an abandoned house?  Groping for clues, we identify broad reflection of heeled footsteps.  Rintala’s rain stick and disciplined Latin shakers await the walking figure.  The acoustic guitar/electric organ “duo” develops a circulating, directionless theme comfortable in its autumnal languor. 

 

EU

After an accumulation of captured effects (chicken, flapping wings, phone dialing) the terrain is hijacked by sequenced rhythms.  Additional elements confuse the expected order in mid-beat. 

 

Epätasaisia helmoja

Fluid, sensual keyboard intro gives way to acoustic guitar advances.  Note by note, the guitar overlays scanty forms, unhurriedly, despite some snuffing and sniffing around.  Against the background of rustling textile, the guitar noodling gradually betrays its goal – the attainment of a quintessential Appalachian moment.  Bolstered by an unlikely electro-beat, the guitar finally pronounces its first micro-twang.  Then, in spite of the intensifying sequencing, the rural folk-blues comes out in full color.  Uninvited, a somewhat hooliganish electric guitar descends on-beat, as if to disperse the youthful crowd which somehow manages to intersperse its noisy games.  Setting the scolding and altercation aside, the guitarist remains true to his geographic aspiration. 

 

Ultrakapeat hippahousut

A reverberating voice and empty clapping would, in other circumstances, smack of artistic desperation.  Instead, this solo ‘performance’ is but a joke, completely detached from the core of a track that attempts to demythologize circuit electronics.  It is difficult to dispel here the images of Tom Dockstader or Ruth White.  A hypnotically disorienting rhythm drives up, gearing up the tempo runs.  But, as it gets denser, its defining rhythmic role is lost within a dispersed pandemic of sputtering effects.  Rintala does not dwell in abstraction for too long.  His toolkit delivers watery gulps and birch clipping, each of varying frequency, as if determined by the physical distance.  The track ends with a dose of early 1980s’ post-industrialism. 

 

External global error

A cantata-like piece owes its archetypical character to the venerable Hammond Organ. As cosmic blankets shift in and out, Rintala gives a proof of good taste by avoiding clutter and overbuilding of layers.  Sibilant values oscillate, occasionally muscling up the volume.  When short frequency ‘aviary’ singing turns out to be electronically generated, the familiarity of ring modulators is striking.  Not surprisingly, the entire track has a feel of long lost experimental sci-fi ventures from the late 1950s to early 1960.  Thankfully, no direct clichés surface. 

 

Laakkosella takaluukun maalaus 900 euroa

What begins as bass-électronique stomping with instant electro-percussive responses is completely transformed by Sauros’ sculptural harmonica playing.  This time, he conjures up Morricone-style poetic parables.  Such contextualism is unavoidable in this masterful counterpoint of the hermetically recurrent bass and the bereaved harmonica mood.  Sputtering meta-recordings are interwoven, but their representative function is either accidentally blurred in the ubiquitous crackles or was never intended in the first place.  When the harmonica is gone, a progression worthy of Richard H. Kirk ploughs on without interrogation. 

 

Arvokas kamelinkarvatakki lämmittää pakkasella

An elderly-sounding recitation adopts here a quasi-percussive form.  Accompanying metals and woods tinkle, fart, whistle, resonate, grumble and rattle.  Only after a while does an identifiably musical instrument appear – an electric piano.  The exchange of views between the oft-absent narrator and silence-enamored pianist generates non-sequiturs and impasses adorned by bells, cymbals and flutter.

 

Timanttikiiltouulet

In a manner foreshadowing collaborative CD “Tower”, three pillars of band Circle join Rintala in this prime example of Finish neo-kraut folk.  Jyrki Laiho, Jussi Lehtisalo and Mika Rättö begin with deceptively aimless, ‘hippy’ drumming.  Soon the guitar figure becomes resolutely mantric, letting the second guitar lay over hypnotic shreds.  Shaking, drumming and hummed vocalizing all add up to the image of an old hippie commune.  And yet the workshop is highly professional.  Lehtisalo’s dizzying agility slides over the elliptic infrastructure in what is probably the most instantly recognizable melodic element on this album.  By the time a second guitar chisels (and then dismantles) these basic structural elements, listeners may revel in their most mesmerizing of space rock recollections.  Naïve shakers and plastic boxes add some extra charm to this well executed collection. 

 

 

***

 

VERDE: “Musical For Cats” (1997)

VERDE: “Traffic Light” (1999)

VERDE: “Modern Electronic Circuits” (1999)

VERDE: “Acib” (1997-2000)

VERDE: “Asill” (2000)

VERDE: “Lokki” (2001)

VERDE: “Karhun epäillään paskantaneen golfkentälle“ (2002)

VERDE: “Live“ (2003)

VERDE: “Vuoronumero” (2003)

VERDE & CLAY FIGURE: “Kalliopora“ (2003-04)

VERDE: “Kato internetist” 2CD (2005)

VERDE: “Legenda“ (2005-06)

CIRCLE feat. VERDE: “Tower“ (2006)

 

The positions listed prior to “Vuoronumero” are mentioned here for documentary purposes – I have not heard any of them.  Of the last 5 recordings, “Kato Internetist” is probably the most accomplished, if a little sprawling affair. 

 

 

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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FAUN FABLES: “Family Album” ****

 

Recorded 2003

 

 

Faun Fables is nom de lettre adopted by Dawn McCarthy, an American songstress and painter inspired by the melodic traditions of the old continent.  In most of her endeavors, she is supported by a very unlikely presence of Nils Frykdahl – better known from his spasmodic vocal equilibristic in Idiot Flesh and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. 

 

McCarthy’s and Frykdahl’s graceful songs alternate with adaptations of little known European classics – Scandinavian, Swiss, Polish, French.  But for the adventurous (and young) American audience, this is simply Faun Fables, a sensual and pensive update on the 21st century “singer-songwriter” trend.  Tasteful, flamelike arrangements and justified eclecticism of the material set these collections apart from the bulk of the output of pop singers whose imagination operates within the restrictions of Celtic mannerism or Appalachian fingerpicking.  If there is an objection, it should be addressed at the artists’ exhaustive attitude to these productions – they invariably contain one or more superfluous songs that somewhat spoil the overall cohesion of these records.

 

 

Eyes of a Bird

Is there a better way to open a nostalgic collection than with the sounds of scampering Italian children?  Yes, there is.  It is the sound of scampering Italian children interspersed with flashes of flutes and droplets of acoustic guitar.  We meet Dawn, an unpolished singer and guitarist who, in this song and many others, will tell us about the relation to her very personal past and (less often) to a future.  On this track, Nils Frykdahl is omnipresent – on guitar, on bass and on occasional flutes.  It is a swinging, unhurried introduction to the set, but one that does not fully capture the magic of later songs.  Yet, the tail-end is so raspy and manic that no one will be deceived into thinking that this is going to be merely a record of a folk poetesse.

 

Poem 2

With some back-up voice support (Robin Coomer) and a twinkling glockenspiel (Max Baloian) Dawn reproduces here the lyrics apparently transmitted through a medium.  We are slowly being immersed into the arcane ambiance of “Family Album”.

 

A Mother and a Piano

This is another family story, with recurrent nylon guitar from Frykdahl, ascetically affective vocal from Dawn, and a barely audible vibraphone (Phil Williams).  It rounds off with an archival piano recording.

 

Lucy Belle

Finally Frykdahl puts on his lipstick and shows off how his bass can skid into falsetto.  This is entirely his song, one that would fit into Sleepytime repertoire.  The invocation to animal roles is appropriately unnerving.  Dawn backs-up before howling wolves vanish into the woods.

 

Joshua

McCarthy sings a sad text about what could’ve/would’ve/should’ve happened, had the existential discontinuity not terminated the young life’s journey.  Marika Hughes’ cello awakens just in time, embroidering the title name and then sawing across the accelerating latter part of the song. 

 

Nop of Time

An uncanny flute doubles on a voice of a 7-year old girl who improvises her own song.  The captured sounds of the girl’s surrounding and the purely responsive role of the flute evoke Robert M. Lepage’s clarinet pieces.  The passage is strangely joyless.

 

Still Here

Another Frykdahl’s song whose guitar recalls the tuning Fred Frith applied to a 6-string in his New York phase.  The melodic disunity of this piece borders on incoherence.  It is a mere narrative and the melodic line’s only role is to illustrate the morose atmosphere laid out by the story of separation.  Both Frykdahl and McCarthy sound remarkably hoarse when singing in unison. 

 

Preview

McCarthy’s vintage song is another throwback to her pre-adolescence memories.  Her very adult voice deconstructs the uneasy relationship between experience and puberty.  In higher registers her voice projects poorly and the transitions crack.  Does this matter?  This was Dagmar Krause’s “problem”, but she became a legend.  Frykdahl lightens the mist with his playful chords coaxed out of his autoharp. 

 

Higher

Archival operatic recording of “Holiest Night” opens this track and the sustained organ chords will outstay the invitation, eventually providing undulating fabric for McCarthy.  The atmosphere is almost of a sparse gospel, complete with an undisciplined choir in misstep with the lead vocal.  The organ goes chunky, but not funky.  This piece may have some private value for the artist, but does strike a little like a filler.  Its justification probably lies in the title of the record.

 

Carousel with Madonnas

This is Zygmunt Konieczny’s astounding masterpiece from the early 1960s.  Originally Ewa Demarczyk’s most famous anthem, the knock-out staccato is reproduced here perfectly by Brian Schachter on piano.  But what is truly stunning is the fact that Miron Bialoszewski’s poem is so ardently expressed by McCarthy’s uncanny, polysyllabic diction.  She makes it appear easy, but it is not.  Who would have thought that this song would be translated, much less sung so distinctly in another language?  The rectilineal form is only slightly softened by Osanna-like flutes and decorative percussion.  Nonetheless, it will remain a demonic stop-go waltz, fully dependent on emphatic piano attacks. 

 

Rising Din

After that volcanic paroxysm, comes the anti-climax of Frykdahl’s ballad.  This is another very emotional and personal theme.  Turgid and apathetic, it does not quite stand up to the standard of the rest. 

 

Fear March

One of the more original tracks here, “Fear March” is the most percussive and exalted, nearly approaching the heroic lashing by Het in the early 1980s.  The Faun herself and Mike Pukish take care of the clubbing.  McCarthy makes her proclamations, while Frykdahl assures both the instrumental and vocal bass buttress. 

 

Eternal

Another classic remake of a classic.  Brigitte Fontaine’s voice was also hapless.  This song comes from her charming, elated debut (“Est folle”), recorded before she became a jazz chanteuse with Art Ensemble of Chicago.  One cannot resist concentrating on the differences between this excellent version and the original.  To Faun Fables’ credit, there are some, and they are good: the flayed skin drum (Sheila McCarthy) and very loosely sounding bass weren’t there back in 1969 and nor were some of the vocal arrangements.  Towards the end, after a very ‘Grace Slick’ ascension from Dawn, the band shifts into a jamming mode, but cuts off too early.  Not on “Family Album”, I suspect…  Dommage.

 

Mouse Song

Frykdahl’s initial recitation is met by twiggy flutes before we can recognize a traditional Alpine tune with obligatory yodeling.  Dawn’s mastery of this technique is commendable and it comes with dancing spoons and a jaunty guitar.  This is an invariably mirthful and optimistic moment – very much unlike the rest of the record.

 

Old And Light

Another reminiscence from a very personal childhood and one of the better songs penned by Dawn.  Here, she operates in the higher range again, punctuated by a drum, and distracted by frail voices from “Picnic at the Hanging Rock”.  The Italian kids return.  The lesson of nostalgia is over.  Time to go home.

 

***

 

This is an unusual statement to make, but one that Dawn McCarthy fully deserves: her recordings have actually been improving with each new issue.  After the somewhat hesitant debut came the intriguing sequel and then the third CD described above.  But it is “The Transit Rider” that fully deserves the term ‘masterpiece’.  Do not miss it.

 

FAUN FABLES: “Early Song” (1999)

FAUN FABLES: “Mother Twilight” (2000)

FAUN FABLES: “Family Album” (2003)

FAUN FABLES: “The Transit Rider” (2002-2005)

Published in: on May 28, 2008 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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