I reviewed here the most recent album by Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat. Following that review, Stakula, the band’s leader, kindly agreed to an interview, offering some insights into the processes behind the music.
Valta is an addition to what by now is a substantial body of work, and Alamaailman Vasarat has established a distinctive sound. Has anything changed on this album compared to previous releases?
The most obvious changes were in the lineup. Before the Valta sessions, our new drummer Santeri Saksala had already performed with the band for a year, much to our enjoyment. The live performances really tightened up and had a whole new level of energy. In the Valta sessions, his knowledge and passion for the drums as instruments made a huge difference to album sound, not forgetting some of the most memorable improvised moments, like in the opening track “Riistomaasiirtäjä”. His contribution has made a huge impact in the overall sound of the band and we’re very happy to have him on board.
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Last night I was at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for what turned out to be one of the more memorable shows I’ve ever attended. I was there for Tinariwen (on whom more below). I had never heard of the opener, Kishi Bashi, not even via the use of his music (as I now learn) in a familiar Windows 8 commercial, and even if I had made the connection I would not have expected his music to be my thing. Support bands you’ve never heard of are often a bit of a lottery, and as two guys with a violin and a banjo took the stage I was ready for anything, but little expected what followed. Working with an amplified violin, various looping devices, and the assistance for half the set of Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees on banjo and bass, Kishi Bashi (real name K. Ishibashi) strung together a series of loop-based pieces that defied genre categorization. He is blessed with formidable skills on the violin, a pure and powerful voice, and apparently boundless energy and musical imagination. Picture Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós singing bluegrass-classical-folk-pop-experimental pieces structured like miniature progressive rock epics interspersed with beatboxing and driven by double-speed loops created live and you’ll be half way there.
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Slumber takes you, and as time passes, you slip into a vivid dream. You are at a heavy metal concert, and thrill to the first deep and doom-laden, viscerally crunching chords. Then you realize that what you thought were guitarists have morphed into cellists, and as the tempo shifts into double time a saxophone adds a frenetic melody. As you look around you find that you are actually sitting outside a cafe in Eastern Europe, and what started as a metal band is now playing klezmer. Some villagers are dancing – somehow it doesn’t strike you as odd that they are dancing the tango, or that evocative middle eastern melodies drop in and out of the tune. You glimpse palm trees, and then hear a jazz ensemble playing somewhere behind you as a marching brass band passes in front, with heavy metal riffs returning to punctuate their melody. But as you turn to watch, you are sitting in the corner of a deserted café in which the pianist is playing his way plaintively towards closing time. In your dream all of this makes sense; the transitions are not jarring but part of an oddly continuous dream logic in which you are in constant movement toward a destination that is ever on the tip of your tongue, yet each passing location is oddly right and vivid.
Such is the experience of listening to an album by Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat (which translates as “Hammers of the Underworld”). Alamaailman Vasarat create hugely entertaining instrumental music that draws from a bewildering variety of world music genres and fuses them within a progressive-rock-like inclination towards ever-shifting rhythms and bombastic flourishes.
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This is the second and concluding part of an interview with Jayne Amara Ross and Frédéric D. Oberland of the Parisian band FareWell Poetry. Read the first part here.
Jayne, are there any moments in the album where the shape the music has taken added something to your sense of the poetry you had written?
Yes definitely, we try to create pieces where each individual element (the poetry, the music, the films) stand alone but work as a whole also. When we have done a good, thorough job every element should enrich the other. It is only when all the mediums align behind the same very precise objective that you get that feeling of something whole, and enveloping. I wouldn’t, however, rely on the music to give meaning to the poetry or the films. Music is able to sublimate and carry meaning but not to impose it. At its best, it can be the wondrous, intoxicating glue that holds everything together. In all my films, including those that I have made outside FareWell Poetry, music is a really important part and I have always shared a privileged dialogue with the musicians that I have worked with. You can also go really wrong when you add music to film, you can easily trip yourself up by making the wrong choices. Having a close relationship with the composer, and learning to communicate in their ‘language’ can help prevent this.
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In the closing months of 2011, a new band from Paris called FareWell Poetry leapt from obscurity to a prominent place on various best-of-2011 lists, thanks to their arresting debut album Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite. (Read a review and stream the music here). Weaving together spoken word, a literary narrative backdrop, film, and compelling, slow-burning instrumental soundscapes, the album combined a high-art conceptual seriousness with an accessible musical appeal. It evidenced a capacity to delight and move and fascinate while appealing to the intellect as well as the gut, allowing the listener to be carried away by the guitar crescendos or ponder the poetic allusions or both at once. Jayne Amara Ross composed and performed the poetry and directed the accompanying film. Frédéric D. Oberland (whose recent collaboration with Richard Knox, The Rustle of the Stars, is also excellent), contributes guitar, fender rhodes, piano, harmonium, soundscapes. Stéphane Pigneul on bass, Eat Gas on guitar, Stanislas Grimbert on drums, and Colin JohnCo providing analog electronics complete the line-up. Jayne and Frédéric kindly agreed to talk to us about how the debut album came about, about the band’s creative process, and about plans for the next release.
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Pjusk - Tele
Like a whole swathe of ambient music, Pjusk‘s work relies on a scaffold of cues for the imagination to add a representational dimension to the raw sounds. Once one has learned that Pjusk are Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik from the west coast of Norway, that their music is composed in a small cabin high in the mountains, and that their characteristic one-word track titles translate as “twilight”, “fog”, “hollow”, and the like, it is nigh impossible not to hear the murky atmospheres and dank rhythms of their music as evoking contemplation of a lonely landscape wreathed in mist and locked in a stasis measured in geological time. These associations are woven more literally than ever on their newest release, Tele. The album is released on the Glacial Movements label, a label that is single-mindedly dedicated to “glacial and isolationist ambient” and offers a growing series of releases that set out to evoke “places that man has forgotten…icy landscapes…fields of flowers covered eternally with ice… The cold and silent night that falls upon the glacial valleys…” The album’s title, Tele, is a Norwegian word for frozen underground water, and the track titles this time have also moved down into the cold earth, invoking gneiss, flint, slate, granite, crystal. It is thus not too big a surprise that the album’s opening is the most darkly monolithic of the Pjusk catalog to date; the surprise is that it ends with one of their brightest moments.
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This is a part of a series on music that has influenced contributors to Music is Good.
I truly believe that music discovery is a life long process and one that should cross all genre barriers. It is absolutely dumbfounding to me whenever I hear someone claim that “there isn’t any good music these days” or that a particular genre (usually hip hop or country) “is all crap”. I certainly realize, mostly because my wife loves to remind me, I’m not a ‘normal’ person when it comes to music, but it seems elementary to me that if anyone explores a genre a bit they will find something that speaks to them. Below are the 10 albums (in my personal chronological order) that have had the biggest impact on my life, and led me down my musical paths.
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I confess to being a skeptic regarding best-of-year lists, though I suspect I am far from alone. The general arbitrariness of the exercise (my own list might look different if you asked me in a different week*) combines with inevitable comparison of apples and oranges (is it really possible to say that a given ambient release is slightly “better” than a given rock album?). What’s more, I usually fail to find my own listening reflected in most published lists (this year I trawled several prominent top 50 and top 100 lists and found almost zero overlap with my own personal list). Adding another may well be simply adding to the futility.
I’m going to go ahead though, largely because of the small chance that as a result someone might discover one of the titles listed below and come to love it. After all, I discovered several of them through the gratefully received recommendations of others. Moreover, each of these releases deserves to be noted on a list somewhere. I make no claim to judge cosmic significance, attribute enduring worth, or arbitrate taste. The following albums are simply 2011 releases that I’ve played many times each and that have left me delighted or fascinated and wanting to keep hearing them in 2012.
[*Addendum - as if purposely to prove this correct, two days after posting this list I discovered the album Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite by FareWell Poetry; had I heard it a week earlier it would have made my top five.]
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This is part of a series on music that has influenced contributors to Music is Good.
I was a bona-fide “grown-up” before I realized there were all kinds of good music hidden away in a vast array of genres I never took the time to investigate. I suppose I am not unique. During our teen years, while some adventurous listeners may follow the beat of their own individual drum, most of us at this stage of life are typically influenced by what the airwaves are playing from the latest top-40 charts. None of the music from that early part of my life was, however, what I would call influential in defining my lasting musical preferences. It was only much later that some albums began to seep into my ears and, in hindsight, I see how they proved to be landmark albums for me – albums which encouraged me to branch out into other genres, and once on that unbeaten path, find all those undiscovered treasures that awaited me. Here’s the ones that did it for me:
I received this CD as a gift from a friend many years ago and, while I had vaguely heard of The Waterboys, I was not at all familiar with their music. From the moment I popped this CD into my player and heard those riotously glorious fiddle notes that open the first song, “Fisherman’s Blues,” I was hooked. This was a sound very different from anything I had been musically exposed to previously. It was my springboard to the discovery of a whole new world of folk-rock with touches of traditional-sounding material by performers outside the U.S., which in turn, led me to more traditional folk tunes recorded by the likes of Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, Steeleye Span, etc. Fisherman’s Blues is still a CD I play often.
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This is the first article in a series where Music is Good contributors discuss the albums that have most influenced them musically. They will include some favourites that they play regularly now, but other choices will be music that they rarely listen to anymore, but had a major influence on their musical development at the time.
My selection begins with the Beatles:
The Beatles inevitably had a major influence upon me musically as I was teenager in their early days. For me this is a turning point album moving from the early fairly straight forward recordings that could be replicated on stage to the later studio based albums like Sgt Pepper. To some extent it reflects my growing up as a person alongside the Beatles ‘growing up’ musically. It is still an album I play regularly with many standout tracks for me such as “Dr Robert” and “Got to Get You Into My Life”.
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