he average music fan is inundated with choices. Europe and America spew albums at a dazzling rate, and even the remaining continents (save Antarctica, for now…) seize the spotlight every now and then. Only a small chunk of this output can feasibly be heard. Of that, a smaller chunk still can be appreciated. And not only has the Internet brought music closer to the hungry listener, it’s also fragmented music. We hear snippets of Real Audio, questionable leaks, single-track iTunes downloads.
How to make sense of this? A common response is to look for connections. Critics—the most media-numb among us—struggle to create scenes and mine for influences. This game of connect-the-dots provides some much-needed structure to an otherwise befuddling mess. The flood of music freezes into a regular grid with a place for every album, each only a few degrees of separation from any other.
This organization provides some satisfaction, thought it ultimately leads to exhaustion. Clumsily cataloguing diverse music takes considerable effort. Eventually one must escape and recharge.
A stint outdoors revives the spirit. Nature is a welcome balm for the brain burnt out by networking. Thankfully, the natural world doesn’t refer to anything outside itself.
Experimental Songcycles, the long-running project of Fonal labelhead Sami Sänpäkkilä, exists in such a natural vacuum. Despite his label’s seminal role in advancing the New Weird Finland trend, Sänpäkkilä takes a different route. Sateenkaarisuudelma hews closer to modern classical than psychedelic folk, though Sänpäkkilä cares little for genres. Sateenkaarisuudelma focuses on beauty rather than context. It provides seventy amazing minutes that need no analysis.
Sateenkaarisuudelma’s four sides of roughly equal length approximate the seasons. Side A, “Sateenkaarisuudelma I-III,” fuses cello and piano vapors into an imposing, icy block. Plucked notes from a stereo-panning acoustic guitar settle in fluffy snowbeds. Distant electronic clicks evoke reindeer hooves, and an organ drone—reminiscent of the wonderful Spire series from Touch—hovers over the swirl like a great gray cloud. Minimal, somber, but strangely joyful, this piece is meant for a snowy day.
Side B, “Harmonia, rakkautta,” thaws the cold. Opening with ever-so-faint-string plucks and piano plinks, the piece evokes scattered rain and slow melt. But the water grows from a trickle to a torrent, with piano glissandos splashing into tidal field recordings. The guitars grow louder as the ice recedes, and a saxophone marks the first return of green. The track blossoms into a wonderful cacophony of bells, whistles, and wheezes.
Side C’s “Maailmankaari I & II” is the most playful piece on the album, a good choice for summer. Miriam Goldberg of Black Forest/Black Sea bounces cello tones off a monotonous, flatulent synth line while upbeat guitar melodies tumble over each other. The synth eventually dissipates, leaving a brief silence soon filled by two intertwining, angelic female voices and quiet chiming percussion. Waves of feedback flatten the voices and bring the track near the celestial shimmers of Sunroof!.
Autumn arrives on the final side. Under an ominous wash of feedback, dying guitars settle into a rustling pile and slowly decay into a sad, spare tone. The track buries the glory of summer and whispers of winter’s ravages. Luckily the album closer “Pianokaari” restores the good cheer. Choral male vocals sing a wordless carol while pianos dance, and a crackling field recording (hearthside fire?) provides warmth and texture. I don’t know if they drink much hot apple cider in Finland, but “Pianokaari” is an equivalent.
Sateenkaarisuudelma has few weaknesses. Its straight-forward beauty may set off New Age alarms in those used to a spoonful of noise or post-punk, but let not that deter you, lest you miss an amazing experience. This album is pure; it cleaned the cobwebs right out of my musty brain.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: DECEMBER 5 – DECEMBER 11, 2005
Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2005-12-05