Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finland 3

Since the Sibelius symphonies I checked out from the New York Public Library were too scratchy to play, my main impression of what the music of Finland sounds like remains the wondrously inscrutable Fonal imprint. In years previous, I had written about artists such as Lau Nau and even gave an overview of their folk scene for the Nashville paper, but hadn't quite kept up with their releases since then.
Before I left, I again pulled out the works of Kemialliset Ystävät, Paavoharju, Islaja, and ES and uploaded them to my iPod, providing an alternating soundtrack of blissed-out and jarring sounds. What I played again and again though was this double album by ESSateenkaarisuudelma, which was just sublimely idyllic for watching the pines and birches flicker past on the landscape. Steeped in the sounds of Harmonia and Popol Vuh (at least to these ears), it's one of the most beautiful minimal albums of the decade.

Arriving in the city of Tampere for the Lost in Music Festival, I wondered if I might somehow see acts such as these. Instead, I braced myself for what I knew to be a weekend of metal and attempted indie-rock, rather than the weirdo, introverted, idiosyncratic music that Fonal trades in (and that I am magnetically drawn towards).
As luck would have it though, the man behind ES, Sami Sänpäkkilä, is also the man behind the label itself. And while my impression was that the Fonal folks lived under giant mushroom caps or in log cabins out on the Laplands, Sami lived but a few blocks away from the festival and I spent a few afternoons listening to music with the man (our favorite being the French pop album cut by Princess Stéphanie of Monacco). He told me that the two principal artists that inspire his label and its telltale sound are Terry Riley and Alice Coltrane. Fitting then that those two artists and their body of work continue to inspire me as well. Sami then gave me a slew of new Fonal releases, by himself, as well as Shogun Kunitoki. To top it all off, Fonal won an award that weekend from the Finnish music industry (for Best Album Art), which is sort of kin to Catsup Plate Records walking off with a Grammy.