ISLAJA: Ulual Yyy (Fonal Records)
Fonal Records 2007
09 Tracks. 39mins00secs
Buy it: CD
Islaja | Fonal Records
Islaja’s first forays into dysfunctional folk sounded like the wanderings of a little girl lost in a forest teeming with crooked trees, chilling winds and hairy monsters, with virtually no clear reference points for the listener to hang on to. Her short vignettes, paper-thin arrangements, acoustic guitars and found sounds predominantly, wrapped around matchstick-like melodies, were fragile and ephemeral affairs, the peculiar timbre of Merja Kokkonen’s voice, at times brittle to the point of breaking, at others almost accidentally falling in or out of tune, adding to the overall disjointed feel of her music
Crucially, for Ulual Yyy, Kokkonen has been raccorded to the electricity grid and relies on much more expensive orchestration, bringing in Rhodes pianos, synthesizers and electric guitars, and sprinkling them with saxophones, violins and various other noises. Right from the onset of opener Kutsukaa Sydäntä those fearing a much more polished results will be reassured though. The songstress has lost none of her acidic tones and knack for abrasive melodies, and these more elaborate sound collages actually appear much more vulnerable than those of previous outputs. The solemn piano and electric guitar backdrop of Kutsukaa Sydäntä only just supports Kokkonen’s saturated vocals and threatens to come crashing down at every twist and turn of the melody.
There is, much more than on Meritie or Palaa Aurinkoon, a quietly dramatic aspect to this album, which at times evokes the mournful tones of Portugal’s traditional fado music or the rampant melancholy of Argentinean, tango. Kokkonen’s voice at times drones and lingers, shying away from attention, or cuts through caustic curtains of sounds with sheer emotions. The music appears more desolate and tormented than before. Shards of saxophone, in turn soft or strident, tear the fabric of this record with insistent regularity on Sydänten Ahmija, Pete P and Laulu Jo Menneestä. On Muusimaa, Kokkonen is caught amidst a disturbing storm of tuneless chords, as if she was surrounded by kids hammering instruments without cohesion.
The last three pieces are comparatively peaceful and spacious, with reduced sound sources and more clearly applied melodies. After the earlier torments, these are welcome resting grounds. The album concludes in surprisingly bucolic mood, with the last four and a half minutes of Suru Ei being entirely constituted of bird songs.
With her two first albums, Islaja’s Merja Kokkonen charmed and intrigued with delicate folk songs. Ulual Yyy is a much more unsettling record. The fairytale ballads have been replaced with much more striking soundscapes, and Kokkonen herself is driven by stronger currents. This third album is a much more mature album, but it remains a mysterious creation which only fits these moments in life when reality is a too vivid option.