Justin Vela on Finland’s Musical Lahjas
Rock Aound the World
Listening to the Finns…sometimes you don’t get what you want…sometimes you do…
You hit those amazing situations where all that’s missing is the perfect soundtrack.
Here’s an example:
You’re on a crowded boat in the middle of the Baltic Sea. (That’s the smallish body of water near Russia.) The boat is packed with Finns, Swedes, Russians, and the odd (really odd) Norwegian. It’s the end of a seriously rock ‘n roll year and you’re kinda tired, but taking this overnight party boat is one of those “I’d be stupid not to” situations. The boat is lurching around…or maybe its just you…and you need the right songs to sum up this moment, because there have been victories…
You don’t always get what you want.
You turn on the cabin radio, which is somehow part of the telephone, and awful, despondent sounds stream out. No part of you can connect with this. Rock & Roll is only Rock & Roll if you like it. And you do not like this.
When in need of a fix, listening to music abroad is often worse than listening to radio in the US. Most of it is years late or only the top hits. Or, by far the worst, there are local artists who try mimicking the sounds of US or UK bands, which, with plenty of notable exceptions, tend to set the standard if not provide the foundation for most modern day music that you like. You are a yankee pig, but also believe in the originality of the species and to go out in Helsinki or Belgrade and hear riffs you recognize or entire compositions that sound like songs you already know being sung in the local language is awful.
The Finnish word for “gift” or “present” is lahja. While traveling, every time you happen to catch a song you like and it’s not one of those sorta decent Avril Lavigne or Ceca tracks, that’s lahja.
Naturally, the best way to run into songs you like is to expand your listening, even if what you listen to becomes defined by destination. You might survive a night on the party boat, but if you want to come back later and do things right in the frozen wasteland of grinning munchkins and IT geniuses that is Finland, get into Egotrippi. Their song “Matkustaja,” or “Passenger,” is appropriate. You got two perfectly harmonized vocalists singing a waltz, the music twirling up a storm of sound around them, guitar rifts like lightening. Egotrippi is also traveling and knows that the consistent stimulation that provides must not be brought down.
“Älä koskaan ikinä” is another welcome song from Egotrippi. What makes this band good is that their music is forceful enough, and has enough different aspects to it, that you’re not overly concerned with understanding the lyrics. In “Älä koskaan ikinä,” especially, the vocals are organ-like. Even if you’re a lyrics-freak you can forgive Egotrippi for not singing in English. Or just learn the Finnish and enjoy from there.
Not going to do that? Still want to understand what you’re being sung to about? Then there’s Husky Rescue. There’s a lot of rhythm and subtleties to this band’s music. Nice percussion coming at you at nightfall, i.e. 3PM, beneath a dark sky full of cascading northern lights.
Husky Rescue is an ambient-pop Finnish band that sings in English and should be a lot better known. The voice of singer Reeta-Leena Korhola is at the same time tender and icy, beautiful yet frightening. Their January 2010 album Ship of Light is Sigur Ros and The Cure and dark snowy winter forests all put together. You don’t know if you want to cry out of the depressive beauty of this music or paint a picture of the most beautiful thing you can think of.
Then there’s Lauri Tahka. I make this recommendation solely out of anthropological integrity towards the Finnish culture. Or something like that.
According to sources, “All kinds of people like Lauri Tahka. Young and old from small towns to cities, but his music is a little country. I mean countryside music.” Lauri Tahka is like a firing a cannonball or a calvary charge. “We’ll come in low out of the rising sun and about a mile out we’ll put on the music…shall we dance?” Had Kilgore been a little more sadistic, or perhaps Finnish, he could have attacked that beach to Lauri Tahka.
You learn a lot about Finland watching the video for “Pauhaava Sydan.” The singer, obviously quite full of himself, spins around in a field holding up a skull. Black clad villagers listen and dance stonily. The skull gets tossed…
Back on the boat, there’s none of the above. Wandering down the lurching hallways, there’s only karaoke, which, miserably, is one of the Finns favorite past times. You strengthen yourself. You know the suicide rate. Finland is a country to survive. Your guides, conductors of inebriating influence, see you are becoming desperate and lead the way to a room where a woman loosely holds an acoustic guitar, and leaning slightly forward sings into a mic:
“I saw you last night
out on the edge of town
I wanna read your mind
To know just what I’ve got in this new thing I’ve found…”
Without pausing she goes into the refrain she has chosen for this composition of verses from different songs:
“I was born in the U.S.A…”