April 2001 Reviews

Artist: Es
Title: Kaikkeuden kauneus ja käsittämättömyys (CD)
Cat.no: FR-28 / K 041
Label: Fonal Records (Finland) / (K-RAA-K)3 (Belgium)
Year: 2004

A new generation of elfish Finnish musicmakers has emerged; known for their home-spun production values, unegotistic camaraderie, a total lack of cynicism and unashamed romanticism, without a slightest fear of getting across corny or pathetic; taking their cues from the 1960s and 70s folk, psychedelia, avantgarde, free jazz, prog-rock, Krautrock and the recent years' eclectic blend of postrock, and of course the traditional strains of art school aesthetics. Having established as their vanguards local bands as Circle, Kuusumun Profeetta and art-punk label Bad Vugum, such Finnish acts as Kemialliset Ystävät, Avarus, The Anaksimandros and Magyar Posse, among all, have made their mark both in domestic and international avant-rock circles. Also among these names is Es, an act masterminded by Sami Sänpäkkilä, who runs his own innovative label, Fonal Records.

The latest Es album is called Kaikkeuden kauneus ja käsittämättömyys ("The Beauty and Incomprehensibility of the Universe"), and it offers droney, lingering ambient excursions and evokes impressionistic moments of melancholia, which is not overpoweringly sad, though, but even of quiet joy and beatitude. It draws comparisons to such pioneers as Erik Satie and his quiet La Belle Époque proto-ambient piano pieces, Brian Eno during his Music For Airports era, or such drone-heavy 70s Krautrock acts as Ash Ra Tempel or Cosmic Jokers; with some Terry Riley type of minimalisim thrown in.

The overall sound is familiar from several classic ambient albums, yet so fresh, which is a testimony to the total sovereignety Es has over their material. On this majestic, meditative album some shining new lifeforms emerge out of the darkness in all their serene, solemn beauty.

And here is a track-by-track-lowdown:

1. Surullisille, onnettomille...
("To the mournful, to the unhappy...")

"Surullisille, masentuneille, unettomille, turhautuneille, pelokkaille, yksinäisille" ("To the mournful, to the depressed, to the insomniacs, to the strayed, to the frightful, to the lonely") -- as intro to the album we have this repeated mantra, sung by Noora Tommila, addressing various listeners; in fact, all of us.

2. Hamuavia
("The groping")

A constant hum, that might be the sound of rain and distant thunder; with a vague rhythmic sound slowly rising from the darkness, like an ominous army, segueing to...

3. Pehmeä iho
("Soft skin")

... this track: a Kemialliset Ystävät type of nodding, melancholic chant ethereally sung by Elissa Määttänen; about soft skin melting and how we don't need these days God as much as he needs us; accompanied by an insistent pulsating bass dirge, and finally joined by a lonely saxophone.

4. Huumaava ikuisuus
("Intoxicating eternity")

Massive slabs of drone with a John Cale style of violin (as in 'We Will Fall' by The Stooges); like a lame giant hobbling in the distance in an early foggy autumn morning; joined by Erik Satie-ish gentle piano glissandos and some glitchy environment sounds.

5. Puutarhaan laskeutuu höyhen
("A feather descending in a garden")

This piece of sombre moods captures a fleeting moment in a summer garden, with birds singing, as in Pink Floyd's pastoral 'Cirrus Minor'. There are some mumbled vocals like a little girl chanting alone to herself, and Terry Riley-esque minimalist organ loops repeating and fragmenting away.

6. Juhlat

Monsieur Satie again, drowsily playing a prepared piano to an organ drone and a Sami's muffled vocals.

7. Sädekellot
("Ray bells")

This idyllic soundscape might take place thousands of years ago in the Greek archipelago, with Ulysses setting sails for uncharted waters, and silent gods of Olympos silently gazing over it all. With sounds of Aeolian Harp or wind chimes and waves crashing to the shore in the background; joined by a gentle dreamlike reverberated electric piano, birds singing and pastoral meadow sounds, until it's time for some glitchy loops of a record player jammed.

8. Sadepäivät
("Rainy days")

The sound of an old scratchy vinyl record playing underneath sweet piano glissandos, some psychedelic female vocals and sounds run backwards, and temple bells.

9. Aavehuminaa (Katjalle)
("Ghost hum (for Katja)")

We hear a whispered reprise of intro's "Surullisille, masentuneille..." mantra, accompanied by a solemn cathedral organ on another Floydesque track here, perhaps reminiscing that lengthy building up of an atmosphere in 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond', and some seagulls shrieking. It's a classic 70s ambient moment, and this is an almost religious-sounding hymn.

10. Kaikkeuden kauneus ja käsittämättömyys
("The beauty and incomprehensibility of the universe")

Again, this one starts with a melancholic church organ. The vocals here are by Ville Leinonen, better known for his overtly romantic rock chansons in Finnish. And indeed, totally po-faced are delivered such recitations as: "Vie minut noille vuorille, sydämen jumala, jotta kuulisin äänesi kirkkaammin" ("Take me to those mountains, the god of heart, so that I could hear your voice clearer")... "opeta rakentamaan yhä tukevampi silta luoksesi" ("teach me to build a more stable bridge to you")... "yksinäisille aavikoille ja surumme laaksoihin" ("to the lonely deserts and to the valleys of our sorrow")... "kosketa kasvojamme ja avaa katseemme kaikkeuden kauneudelle ja käsittämättömyydelle / tänään / huomenna" ("touch our faces and open our eyes to the beauty and incomprehensibility of the universe / today / tomorrow"). However, it does not appear contrived at all in the context of this album of lasting beauty, and is a fitting finale to it all.

Copyright © 2001 Erkki Rautio. Reprinted with permission.

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