A while ago, perhaps a year, I was surfing through the websites of European record labels when I found a group of MP3s by an Icelandic woman named Sigridur Nielsdottir. You might have heard of her already. The members of Múm are fans. She records her own songs at home and prolifically releases them on cassette tapes. I knew her name, but I hadn’t heard her music, so I listened. The main ingredient was an organ—a home keyboard, a synthesizer that can generate a beat: rumba, cha-cha-cha, whatever. From the sound of it, she’d made the recordings with a little home microphone plugged into a stereo, copying the music directly onto a tape. It gave the songs a flatness that I wasn’t used to; it made them interesting.
Nielsdottir was the first person I thought of when I was trying to find a way to describe TV-Resistori. The band are Finnish, not Icelandic, and their music is more complex than hers, but they have that same air of casual de-emphasis hanging over their songs—a sort of winking, tongue-in-cheek joke on anyone who thinks that disco zooms and cheesy pop keyboards mean that they’re going to have a straightforwardly boppy night out.
The songs are built around chords and noises that seem to have escaped from the top 40, circa 1980, and the marvelous thing about the band is that they manage to take these sounds and turn them into utterly distinctive music. They have the same intimate, hermetic feel as Fonal Record’s other bands while being more playful and less mystic than, say, Paavharju. Paavharju’s Yhä Hämärää has mossy pinecones. Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin has brightly colored Duplo blocks.
The songs ping and fizz with inventive surprises. Was that a kazoo at the beginning of “Kontraposto”? Was it a toy horn? A balloon losing air? We don’t know. It comes from nowhere, farts merrily, a fly-buzz of a sound, then vanishes forever at the end of the song. “Ratsasta Mun Ponilla” trots along on tongue-clicks and ends with what sounds like a man impersonating a snorting horse. “Sheikki Sheikki” begins with a coven of voices shouting happily: “La la-la la la! La la-la la la!” This comes as a shock because there are no pauses or gentle segues between the tracks, and the previous song, “J.O.V.H.M.L.S.O.A.M.O. (Love)”, ended with a soft fade, as if we were about to go to sleep. Instead we get la-la-la’d at by half of Finland.
“Sheikki Sheikki” turns into the album’s rowdiest song, with disco crescendos, a bumping drum, and a guitar zooming towards feedback. When the band reaches the chorus it sounds as if they’re singing, “Shake it, shake it,” but that must be a trick of my ears because the entire album is in Finnish. Fonal Records has posted translations of some of their musicians’ lyrics on their message board; the songs from Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin aren’t among them, although they do tell you that the title means Cousins Love Better, so make of that what you will.
TV-Resistori are underground and clever. Serkut Rakastaa Paremmin is twee without being monotonous or slight, art brut without being pretentious or self-conscious, and cute without being sugary-sweet. In its smart lumpiness and its determination to set up an askew, retro, disco world where it can exist on its own terms, it has the same appeal as those ugly-adorable vinyl monster toys made for adult collectors. It’s an album with genuine personality; a dinky treat.
// Notes from the Road
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