Five Founts of Ethereal Weirdness: Ólafur Arnalds, Es, Ville Leinonen, and Paavoharju


Ólafur Arnalds is a young Icelandic composer who’s worked with 65daysofstatic and performed live with a string quartet across Europe. His debut CD, Eulogy for Evolution, mixes past and future, combining piano, strings, and subtle electronics into a swirling eight-track suite with numbers instead of track titles (“0952,” “3055,” “3704_3837,” etc.). It builds and recedes like a cross between Clint Mansell’s Requiem for a Dream score and Philip Glass’s less-synth-driven work; it’s so relentless (OK, maybe “gently persistent”) that when a sudden swirl of notes rises out of the main melody, it’s like a Roman candle going off in a library. Arnalds’s latest release, the Variations of Static EP, is much more about electronics (beats, even) and delicate, digital sound manipulation—glitchy clicks and pops skitter across the headphone space even as the strings surge romantically. At one point, a computer speaks in a childlike voice, adding an off-kilter pathos that saves the music from sappiness.

Meanwhile, in Finland, Fonal has reissued three albums from 2004 to 2007 that, collectively, make me think there’s some kind of tech-savvy hippie insurgency taking over their independent-music scene. The three sections of label head Sami Sänpäkkilä’s two-CD set, Sateenkaarisuudelma (released under the name Es) have some long-ass titles admirably suited to mantra-like recitation while the music drones along in the background. Indeed, the album begins with a male and female voice singing “Sateenkaarisudelma harmonia rakkauta” slowly for 90 seconds, with barely audible piano in the background. And when it gets rolling, it’s blissful in a way that reminds me of mid-’70s Alice Coltrane or the last few Boredoms studio albums minus the thundering drums. “Harmonia Rakkauta” is over 22 minutes long and begins with isolated piano and plucked guitar notes, slowly building and adding synths until the need for a catharsis (which never arrives) is almost overwhelming; it’s like the section of an Orb track before the drums come in, stretched out for minute upon agonizingly pleasurable minute.Paavoharju is a loose collective of Christian ascetics; their second album, Laulu Laakson Kukista, is a mélange of spoken word, static, found sounds, tape effects, and the occasional disco rhythm. Pianos and guitars are filtered through haunted-house atmospherics with plenty of reverb and hiss, voices come and go in the mix, and the mood moves from somber and pensive to a kind of inchoate joy. It’s chaotic, but extremely beautiful and endlessly fascinating—even if I spoke Finnish, this would be some genuinely weird, outsider-art shit, like if Negativland gave up social commentary in favor of producing a collaboration between Jandek and the Shaggs. Finally, Ville Leinonen’s Suudelmitar is the most straightforward of all these discs, dominated by his forceful, almost flamenco-esque guitar playing and gentle vocals. There are female voices as well, plus intermittent horns and even some tasteful flute, all preserving the soothing by-the-fireplace vibe. If you’re gonna play all these records in one long stretch, I’d nominate this one as the perfect finish.