Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin
any Western listeners have spent the last year discovering the varied pleasures of Fonal Records. In its eleven years, the Finnish label has put out a series of well-regarded experimental and psych-folk releases, garnering heavy praise for recent albums by Islaja, Paavoharju, and Shogun Kunitoki. However, Fonal has consistently released singles and albums by more conventional pop groups from around Finland that have flown mostly under the international radar. Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin, TV-Resistori’s second on Fonal, serves as reminder that the label’s best releases are not all as austere as its recent successes.
Critical response to TV-Resistori’s 2004 Initiaandisko often focused on the kitschy, 8-bit elements that dominated. Indeed, comparisons can be drawn between that record and “Popcorn,” Jean-Jacques Perrey, or Stereolab. Fonal has reacted to the album by predicting that “If [we] ever have a hit single it might very well come from TV-Resistori”—certainly wishful thinking—and as a result TV-Resistori run the risk of being characterized simply as just another lo-fi electronic twee-pop revival act. This sentiment isn’t helped by the titular opening track on Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin, a simple, sunny duet between boy/girl vocalists Yrjö Saarinen and Päivi Kankaro. However, as Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin goes on, we find that there’s a little more going on than the relatively naive pop of their debut.
Most of the subsequent cuts on the album tend towards a minor key and more subdued instrumentation than on Initiaandisko. There’s a sense of foreboding in the whispered vocal harmonies by Saarinen and Kankaro and the numerous musical allusions to psychedelic rock on tracks like “Viimeinen Hidas.” This sentiment may be partially driven by this reviewer’s lack of facility with the Finnish language, though the band’s MySpace page informs me that the album’s title translates to “Cousins Love Better,” a perplexing and disturbing image that seems to confirm my suspicions.
And why not? The song’s lyrics, while evidently accessible to local listeners, are impenetrable to the non-Finnish speaker. The result is that the only bit of text the listener knows—the song title—stands out like a haunting mantra when it appears in the song, usually as the centerpiece of the chorus (as in the chilling “Numerot on Meidän Puolella”). It’s possible that TV-Resistori is singing all about teddy bears and candy-canes, but given the conflicted emotions conveyed in the instrumentation and in the vocalists’ delivery, it’s unlikely that the subject matter is anything that simple. Listeners should hesitate to make too much of this connection, but on “Odotan Viimeistä Hidasta,” the cryptic vocals, as well as the lush instrumentation, have an effect similar to that of fellow Nordic inhabitants Dungen, offering acerbic pop with psychedelic leanings.
Perhaps the album’s greatest strength is that while its instrumentation remains rooted in the lo-fi staples of 8-bit keyboards, jangly guitars, and simple rhythms, its subtle use of space creates a much more dynamic sound than that of a conventional lo-fi synth-pop group. This is perhaps the handiwork of new engineer/drummer Aleksi Salo, who is in general, admirably economic in his drumming. It would be easy to hack out a bunch of C86 beats, (or, well, Initiaandisko beats) and retain the identity of the previous album, but TV-Resistori add an artiness to songs like “J.o.v.h.m.l.s.o.a.m.o. (love)” by simply choosing to slow them down. As a result, no tinny keyboard sound is a novelty and no 8-bit ping carries the melody. “Numerot on Meidän Puolella” begins the minimal cha-cha verse with claustrophobic minor-key synths, but an expansive chorus is subtly heralded thrice by reverbed guitars and harmonized vocals.
This represents an important step forward for TV-Resistori with their newfound ability to extract profundity, rather than novelty, from kitsch. You might have a hard time convincing die-hard Fonal fans that Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin is a significant release for the label, especially considering that it comes right on the heels of the stately loops of Shogun Kunitoki’s Tasankokaiku, but TV-Resistori’s newfound respect for restraint and ambiance adds an exciting new dimension to Fonal’s catalogue.
Listen to sound samples from Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin here.