Svart Records Roundup: Aleah, Kauko Röyhkä & Sami Hynninen, Polymoon & Joensuu 1685
Svart Records remains one of the finer labels around, here are a few of their latest releases.
Aleah – Aleah
After the tragic and untimely passing of Aleah Stanbridge, her partner Juha Raivio has spent much of his time and art working on his grief. Though in fact the work began before her passing, as Swallow the Sun‘s massive Songs from the North I, II & III was born of her long struggle against the cancer that claimed her life, and the closing inevitable. She passed away roughly 6 months after its release. Though the debut of Trees of Eternity had been recorded as far back as in 2014, its release marked the beginning of a triptych of her last work. The middle part came in the form of Hallatar‘s debut, containing her last unreleased poems, and the final piece is now released in the form of her solo album, painstakingly finished by Raivio.
The meat on the bone, the first disc of this double album, contains little more than her ethereal vocals accompanied by a lone, stripped down guitar. Some of the songs can be traced back to her ’07 demo, others to her That Which Remains project and some are of newer ilk. These soft and beautiful songs are most apart from the body of work you’ll most likely be used to hearing, but also some of the finest pieces of music she ever featured on. The second disc contains band versions of 4 of the songs, and two others. They offer an interesting juxtaposition where the music is often more dreamlike, even eerie, though more fleshed out as well. Yet it is the acoustic version on which the emotional weight is better carried and felt.
Aleah can sometimes feel like a collection of sketches, but it adds all the more to the raw emotion that is the beating heart of the album. It’s so integral to the finishing of the project, and to the experience of it, that I wonder what it would sound like if it had been “only” an album. The music is good enough for it to stand on its own, but I would wager the experience varies wildly based on your emotional attachment to the artist and her art previously.
Polymoon – Caterpillars of Creation
An up’n’coming band on the Tampere psych rock scene, Polymoon proves they’re more than ready to challenge the more acclaimed names with their debut. Their songs are on the lengthy side, and individual songs don’t follow the straightest path, building their arcs throughout their length, but the album is pleasantly kept at 42 minutes.
Cosmic trips, atmospheric droning, fuzzed out jams and hippie rock shake shake hands in pretty much every song while the most hectic moments briefly bring to mind Kingston Wall via Von Hertzen Brothers but Caterpillars of Creation is a fairly easy album that’ll open up with little effort. Though it’s all washed in tons of reverb, hum and buzz, the melodies and hooks are never obscured and the stout rhythm section keeps a constant drive on. Though that mystic “something” that would elevate Polymoon above the sum of their parts is missing from the songwriting, their debut is one of the most promising psych records of 2020.
Joensuu 1685 – ÖB
Some 12 years ago, Joensuu 1685‘s self-titled debut made huge waves in Finnish indie and music critic circles with its shoegazing indie rock psychedelia. 10 years ago, in the middle of the sessions for their sophomore, the band disappeared, seemingly without a trace. In 2016, singer-guitarist-organist Mikko Joensuu, a former Pentecostal Christian resurfaced with his extremely well-received solo trilogy, Amen, released in intervals of 6 months, growing from folk-country, through psychedelic britpop drawn out to 10 and 20 minute long pieces, and finally collapsed into orchestrated krautrock. It’s a road through faith and anxiety, through loss and loss of faith to depression and renunciation—although the Joensuu himself has felt the most common, religion-centric interpretation of the trilogy is far too thin.
Meanwhile, his drummer brother Markus, and Risto Joensuu, unrelated to the brothers, found Siinai, a proggy, droning, electronically post-rocking ambient-thing band that’s released a few pretty well received albums of their own, including one that got Jimmy’s nuts all Nultied up, and a couple of collaborations with the Canadian Moonface. But eventually, Joensuu 1685 had to come back and the trio entered the studio to re-record their sophomore album, with freshened up lyrics and arrangements.
The framing story follows the imagined life of Peter Krook, an actual person and apparently an ancestor of the brothers Mikko and Markus, and supposedly an ancestor of Risto as well, despite his lack of relation to the others, the lines of fiction and reality blur on ÖB. Siinai took something from Joensuu 1685, but brought little back, whereas Mikko’s solo adventures have given much to the band. The glum narrative, grandiloquence and maximalism that have crawled into the songwriting can all be traced there.
ÖB is a huge album, but all too often the emotion feels acted, or hardly comes through. It’s big because the band says so, not because it feels so, and a couple of songs feel like somebody else wrote a tribute, or even a parody of Mikko Joensuu. The effect his solo trilogy had warps the perception of this record without a doubt, and since the music is a decade old, likely the seeds had long been sown, but having experienced these things chronologically, it’s impossible not to view ÖB as a post-script to both the Amen trilogy and Joensuu 1685’s first period of activity. With fresher ears, its quality will likely rise.
Kauko Röyhkä* ja S. A Hynninen – Dekadenssi
Kauko Röyhkä is, among other things, a Finnish rock legend who though commercially successful, has always also embraced a more experimental side to his music. Sami Albert Hynninen is a cult legend in his own way, a sailor on the seas of metal’s seedy underbelly. I’d imagine the collaboration raised a few eyebrows, and watered many a mouth—undoubtedly, many of which have been left disappointed by Dekadenssi. After all, such a collaboration is bound to wildly feed the imagination, but the result sounds very much like a rock album by Röyhkä.
It’s darker and rawer, more skeletal than much of his work, but like his work nonetheless, which shouldn’t be a surprise as he did write most of the record. Originally Hynninen’s role was that of a producer and a bassist, but grew soon to include lead vocals and eventually songwriting as well. He didn’t have an album quite like this under his belt before, so it’s difficult to say how much of this actually sounds like him, because the above characterization as a metal musician does him neither favours nor justice.
If I were to venture a guess, I might guess that not many expected a primal, bare-bones rock record from the duo, although listening to Dekadenssi, it’s pretty obvious it’s exactly what one should have known to expect. I don’t known what I actually expected from the duo myself, but it is the most consistent record Röyhkä has released in quite a while, and the first in even longer that I can imagine coming back to again and again.
The driving bass riffs of “Ihmisvihaaja” and “Kuuluisan paluu”, and the mix of mysticism and repressed wrath on “Alennustila” contain some of the most delightful rock I’ve heard in a while, while the trio of singles, “Seksuaalisuus”, “Bohemiadi” and “Maanalainen Maailma” contrast with an airier and more open feel that the length of 70 minutes necessitates. It seems that Dekadenssi won’t be the last time the two collaborate, so I can only hope they get a little more out of each other, and won’t be afraid to include more of the electronic nihilism of “Ihmisvihaaja’s” intro, and keep drummer Roberto Lanz, whose steady beats prove invaluable throughout the record.
*Kauko Röyhkä’s Facebook page suddenly disappeared early this month, and for the time being all communications are made through a page of a former collaborative project.
Get yer yayas, I mean albums, from Svart Records’ shop. All of these should be out now, and remember to say “Hi.”