Islaja - Ulual YYY

There's some menace to Sydanten Ahmija and at times it almost recalls the kind of background jazz you might expect to find in a French bar. But only if you're on a bad trip.

 

Islaja – Ulual YYY (Fonal)

 

More Finnish oddness for which we should be truly thankful. On the front cover Islaja crouches down in a wintry Finnish forest wearing jeans and a rather interesting jacket. From behind her fringe large eyes peer out; she looks to be in a trance. She might have been in a similar trance, for all we know, whilst recording Ulual YYY. It's certainly out there somewhere.

 

Album opener Kutsukaa Sydanta kicks off with ominous piano and a stringed instrument that needs tuning. Islaja's beguiling voice joins in singing who knows what over a backing track that appears to be falling apart before it has even started. Woozy keyboards are added to the mix before the song fades away. Sydanten Ahmija opens with brass and drunken fairground stylings. Again, there's the germ of a song here but it remains tantalizingly out of reach – it's a bit like when you place your fingers incorrectly on the keyboard and you touch type complete nonsense – the tracks on Ulual YYY sound as though they could have been 'traditional' songs that have somehow been transcribed incorrectly. There's some menace to Sydanten Ahmija and at times it almost recalls the kind of background jazz you might expect to find in a French bar. But only if you're on a bad trip.

 

Pete P is by far and away the closest we come to a song on Ulual YYY. It's got beats, keyboards and impassioned singing. There is joy to be had in the mysteries of Islaja's voice – it's quite wonderful and could probably make her shopping list sound fascinating. And, for all I know, she might be doing precisely that. For those that like the Fonal output I'd say that Pete P reminds me quite a bit of label mates Paavorhaju which is a very good thing indeed. Laulu Jo Menneesta starts off slowly and breathily – it's a song that is never able to quite get going. There's some sax and keyboards but they can do little to awaken the song. Pysahtyneet Planeetat features bass and could almost be a cabaret song. Were it not for the scraping violin and the high-pitched screams in the background, that is.

 

Muusimaa recalls the first track as Islaja sings over guitar and drums. The guitar has been detuned and the drums are hit at random. Later on there's a keyboard solo too, played almost at random as well, and then finally a bit of bird twittering. Varyokusvastin features breathy vocals and is quietly menacing. Along with Pete P it's pretty much a 'normal' song. Elsewhere Islaja sounds like she's on a demented sleigh ride through the woods (Muukralais Silma) before the album finishes with Suru Ei, a slow moving piece whose last five minutes features nothing but birdsong. Which is nice.

 

It is by no means an easy listening album and it isn't going to be played on Radio 1 or Radio 2 any time soon. It does have a certain charm, however, and for those who like their Finnish improv-folk (and come on, who doesn't?) there's plenty to enjoy here for those prepared to put the time in.

 

Words: Chris Dawson