Review from The Wire

Through releases by groups such as Chora and The Hunter Gracchus, Sheffield’s Singing Knives label has become synonymous with a form of electroacoustic improvisation that draws on traditional folk music as much as it does drone, Noise and avant rock. So, it’s little surprise that Finnish musician Pekko Käppi has found a home there for his second release – the follow-up to his 2007 album debut, Jos Ken Pahoin Uneski. Käppi is a noted player of the jouhikko: an ancient lyre from the Karelian region where Finland meets Russia, with four horsehair strings played with a bow, creating a fiddle-like tone with rich, melancholy harmonics and a natural drone. Across this album’s ten concise tracks, he conjures a time-worn Northern European folk-heritage – as on the fisherman’s lament of “Miesta Lyodaan Kuin Vierasta Sikaa” or barn-dance reel “Ja Kielestas Lissaa”.

Yet it’s tradition with an ear to the modern-day underground. Using a four-track tape recorder, Käppi builds dense, multilayered pieces that inherit and develop many of the lo-fi psych/improve strategies proposed by the last decade’s wave of Finnish wyrd-folk pioneers. There’s a continual backdrop of mangled tape loops, over which Käppi layers not just jouhikko but also husky tenor vocals, stilted recitation, twanging Jew’s harp and tinkling knife and fork percussion – all recorded with thick, close-miked amplification riding the cusp of distortion. The album’s B side moves a little closer to rock, with the jouhikko agitated rhythmically like a throbbing electric guitar and, on “Iesuksen Kapiat Kaet” in particular, pumping an insistent pulse that would sit well on Finnish neo-Kraut group Circle’s acoustic album, Forest.

Essentially, this is an album about artifice, doing for Finnish folk tradition what Harappian Night Recordings, another artist associated with Singing Knives, does for Middle Eastern music: sketching out an alternative ethno-musical reality that’s more at home on the bedroom stereo than it is in the village market place. Whether real or imagined, it’s still a seductive and rewarding place to spend half an hour.

Daniel Spicer, The Wire, March 2010