I first saw Finland’s Pekko Käppi a few years back playing in support of Richard Youngs in London. Whilst obviously coming from very different backgrounds, both shared an interest in ancient musical forms – Youngs at the time seemed to be reaching back into British folk music, and Käppi was performing on the jouhikki, an old Finnish-karelian lyre. Käppi’s new album has now appeared on one of the country’s most interesting labels, and one with a strong interest in records which take traditional music and instruments and put them in new and disorientating contexts.
For I doubt that anyone other than Käppi has made a jouhikki album that sounds quite like Vuonna ’86. It may be relevant at this point to mention that Käppi is a member of the Fonal label scene. That label has introduced the world to a whole bunch of Finnish outsiders who mix folk songs with improvisation to startling effect, releasing outstanding albums by the likes of Kiila and Kemilliaset Ystavat – both featuring Käppi. Hence the fact that Vuonna ’86 opens with several minutes of fuzzy racket and clatter, with only the merest hint of jouhikki at the end, shouldn’t surprise anyone. The album has several ancient-sounding mantra-like songs, delivered in Käppi’s weary monotone, but the vocals are fighting for space amongst drones and feedback, scrapes and screams, bells and other terrifying and unidentifiable sounds – the noise and metal scenes are probably as much an influence on Käppi as the music of his forefathers. But set amongst this is “Miesta Lyodaan Kuin Vieresta Sikaa” (hmm, I’m pretty confident there should be some umlauts in there), a dusty slice of jouhikki which sounds like it could have been included on the recent ‘Excavated Shellac: Strings’ LP on Dust To Digital. As with much of the Singing Knives catalogue, it is at times incredibly difficult to place when Vuonna ’86 was recorded, or even which instruments are being used (is that still the jouhikki? Or is that a guitar? What about that, is that a jaw harp?). One thing I am sure about, however, is that Vuonna ’86 will sound quite like nothing else you hear this year. This is yet another excellent release from Singing Knives.