Sala-Arhimo / Sala-Arhimo
B / B
hen a musician releases two albums within days of each other, he likely recorded a large block and divided it for the sake of sales and digestibility, with some concern for the aesthetic fissures separating the material from the session. Not so with Sala-Arhimo’s Jukka Raisanen. Though his debut on Last Visible Dog and his sophomore release on Time-Lag hit distros the same week in April, the tangled timeline of Raisanen’s output, along with a scarcity of information, throws the Sala-Arhimo chronology into total disrepair.
A touring member of Finland’s rising Islaja, Raisanen has been developing his solo material for years. His Time-Lag CD-R was available as early as last year’s brief tour of the United States. That edition was gobbled by Finn-folk headz before its existence could ripple. Meanwhile, Last Visible Dog is notorious for gathering as much stray, unreleased output as possible into a single release. Thus, the LVD material could very well encompass formative exercises and recent compositions, both preceeding and leapfrogging the follow-up.
Without the usual press release crutches, one must parse the albums sonically for clues to Raisanen’s trajectory. Two possibilities emerge:
-In contrast to the mass of space-drone free-flowing Finnish work (and under the influence of Islaja’s narratives), Raisanen’s has been moving towards the song form, allowing his soft tenor more freedom within a minimalist framework that embraces and rejects pop in equal measure.Upon further investigation, the latter possibility seems likely, as the taut, nuanced instrumentals on his Time-Lag release sound more mature than most of his sparser, song-based LVD material. Should this conclusion prove true over subsequent releases (and given Raisanen’s ingenuity, many more are likely to come), one would augur a denser, more eclectic approach for the future.
-Once a singer/songwriter, Raisanen’s exposure to the wider Finnish scene has led him to diversify his music, eventually abandoning lyrics for melodic, textured pieces bearing only a slight relationship to traditional songs.
This would be a great loss. We’ve quite enough albums that demonstrate the acoustic possibilities of breath noises and wordless chanting, and not nearly enough that attempt the difficult synthesis of folk, minimalism, jazz, and pop. Raisanen’s ear for melody is rare, as is his multi-instrumental virtuosity. His saxophone prowess—not so much as hinted at in Islaja’s work—proves to be the show stealer in the Time-Lag release. The stuttering, ecstatic arcs he releases on “Karmas Parkki” and “Ilmestys” outshine the “creepy, forest primitive” trope invoked on “Kerer Om Olet.” Not only do the latter submit to the norms of freak-folk, they subdue the qualities that distinguish Sala-Arhimo.
This should not force a return to the songwriting style of his LVD release. Those songs provide a great showcase for Raisanen’s voice, but are less rewarding than his layered work. “Muotoja Taivaalla” relies too heavily on a waterfall keyboard line and aimless bells, undercutting Raisanen’s lyrical explorations. The subtle tonal shifts of the backing organ drone and the melodica bridges stand out, however, as a means of intersecting drone, melody, and song.
The devastating vocal melody of “Sina Kirkas” needs to be revisited in a more fully fleshed out setting. Dragging sticks over a drumhead creates an interesting texture, but the guitar line simply cannot keep pace with his vocal work. In most of his overt songs, Raisanen pulls back from the complexity of his instrumental work, as if afraid of losing his lyrical moorings in the broader sound.
He needn’t worry—his interest in drone works best when it accords with his melodic sense. “Peiri Iloirer Laiva,” despite its brevity, is a glorious, jubilant composition, with rich, optimistic harmonics, and jittery acoustic guitar time-keeping. The opener on the LVD release, “Onnellisten Saari,” matches sustained saxophone notes with unfettered guitar ruminations and feral vocals for a more melancholic, but no less gorgeous effect. The fusion of the two styles is too tantalizing to pass on. Should he combine his drones with his lyrical interests, he’d create a unique, compelling terrain for himself, hinted at by LVD’s “Onnella.”
These two releases attest to a great talent, and I wouldn’t have wasted a great deal of criticism had they been unexceptional on their own terms. But a brighter future can blot a bright present. If this criticism is constructive, Sala-Arhimo is on the verge of an amazing sound.
Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2006-05-17