New York

Finland’s ‘Jay-Z of Freak-Folk’ Makes U.S. Debut



Not pictured: The Micro Machines guy eating the hair off his arm

Finnish Free Psych-Folk Attack
Tommy’s Tavern
25 August 2005

Idiot that I am missed all but the last song of the Lau Nau set because I was at the bar jamming the $3 Buds, but no doubt she was the winner tonight. Outside the door (Tommy’s got too packed for proper entrance) her voice had kid in room singing about nothing appeal, while the rest of us played the parents peeking through the door crack, smiling, amazed, but still a bit worried the kid’s gonna go Ringu on us.

Turns out though Laura Lau Nau was less kid in her room, more kid in her belly. Five months heavy, when she went for the celebratory mug after her last lullaby–two dudes accompanied on homemade strings, she sang a simple song and played a Casio–I kept scribbling “ODOULS? ODOULS?” as if my non-alcoholic pen could save the little thriver. It also could have been soda, or iced tea, but this was less about the beverage, more about the principle: When the doc says pregs, no drinking, freeze your beer flat and just eat it like a sandwich.

[Lau Nau Download: “Johdattaja Joleen” ]
[Lau Nau Download: “Kuula”]
[Lau Nau Download: “Puuporttirauta Portilta”]

Next Jan Anderzen performed tape manipulations as Tomutonttu–I only know his work in Avarus (a band he may not even be in) but he’s slinky and striped and apparently very well accomplished. The hissy tapes had bare vocal melodies on them, shards of talking too, and with Anderzen’s embellishments they sounded like lost field recordings, at half-best a Finnish take on The Books, at three-quarters best those tapes the guy from Unsolved Mysteries would play to convince the audience that ghosts are real (ghosts are not real).

Best best? While we reverent pansy asses hung on every loop and sample and crick and crackle of Finnish folk’s live US debut, a local Greenpoint bum wandered into the space and started yelling, during the performance, “IS EVLYN THEH? EVELYN WHEH AHH YOU”–a bit humbling, because until the bum broke in the side door and appeared physically before us, most of us thought it was just the tape manipulations.

[Avarus Download: “Arus“]

Which sort of put the night in unfair context. Here we are in the backroom of the most meat/fries bar in town–not even a dart board, and whose older clientele probably have been going there forever–watching a dude with a beard play three-stringed instruments that sound like bagpipes and sing an old Finnish melody that was “originally a spell or charm to make house burn.” Don’t even get me started on Kuupuu, sitting on her carpet and reading directions for fey loopmaking out of a notebook like a first-time cook obeys a strict recipe. If this was just some magical, mythical event unraveling before us, that’s fine and good and heartwarming. But the last thirty seconds of her last song, the seemingly methodical Kuupuu started banging on her keyboard and looping her haphazard improvisations–made me wonder whether I have too much patience for the dilettante.

[Kuupuu Download: “Lisa Kehraa”]
[Kuupuu Download: “Lentokalojen hautuumaa”]
[Kuupuu Download: “Tuli uni”]

“It’s been a long night,” Islaja said, who took the floor last with a bassist/multi-instrumentalist who looked like the guitarist from Dungen who flipped out at Intonation Festival when his amp kept cutting out. “We’re gonna play some ‘rock & roll’ ,” she went on, sheepishly admitting ‘rock & roll’ as if that might undercut the seriousness of her performance. But we needed the rock, honestly, we needed the clean-cut basslines and we needed the lights on, because without it Islaja’s voice would sound, as a friend pointed out on the way back, “just like a crazy Scandinavian woman singing crazy, not really knowing what she’s doing.”

But Islaja clearly has control over her voice, and what’s out-of-tune is gloriously out-of-tune, exciting because the dissonance is intentional and precise. She hears things we don’t, and unlike a lot of sing crazy shit and see what sticks types, her compositions are built around her unique sense of tonality–often she’ll move onto the next chord a few beats before her accompaniment, and in that limbo, her voice does marvelous things, quarter-stepping and glissing and taking part in something much greater than we expect.

[Islaja Download:Haaveilija“]
[Islaja Download:Sateen Tullessa“]
[Islaja Download:Rukous“]

Islaja anxiously kept her set short, even announcing “last song” when in fact it was her second-to-last song. “OK, final countdown,” she said before the real closer, when beside me, someone muttered, “Are you really gonna play ‘The Final Countdown’?” That break from sobriety came easy enough–New Yorkers are by far the world’s second-best hecklers–but it was a break to see people so genuinely wrapped up in the music, too.

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