[16 October 2011]
“Dour Scandinavians?” asks the press sheet, first off, and then it goes on to tell me that Frigg’s musicians are Scandinavian but not dour, Finnish yet happy. “People think Finnish music in particular is melancholy and minor,” says Antti Järvelä, one of Frigg’s founders, and a native of Kaustinen, the band’s home base, which is located near the centre of Finland’s long vertical crooked body. “But if you look at tunes from before World War II, seventy percent are in a major key.” Frigg plays happy music, he says. “And we are making very happy music.”
And my mind flies off, and I start to wonder who these other people are, and why they think that Scandinavians are dour, and what kind of music they imagine when they imagine Finnish music: What do they hear in their heads? Frigg is a fiddling group, a modern folk group, and fiddles are not dour instruments—they’re naturally slippy and, or, sharp. Järvelä is right; Frigg doesn’t sound dour, or unhappy, and because we’re on the subject of stereotypes, I start to wonder what other Scandinavian stereotypes might suit them better—ordered, I think, accurate, because the musicians play in unison and this massed unison is part of their effect, the impressive idea of this group of people all hitting the same note at the same time, fallible human beings with fallible instruments, and yet there they are, defying nature, aligned, nonchaotic, in unison. They don’t make mistakes, Järvelä says: “When we smile, it has nothing to do with mistakes.”
Sleek, let’s say, extending the idea, thinking of those moments when they glide around a quick bend in the music, well-designed, nothing shaggy, not a hair out of place, a machine that works, clean-cut, peaceful—words like that—every musician is part of a healthy and regular system that takes care of everybody in the microcosmos of the band, although the brass in “Amurin Tiikeri” is being kept in an inferior streetsweeper role and marks time in the distance behind a curtain of fiddles, resigned to second place. It’s an outsider, a member of a military band—“part of an unexpected collaboration Frigg undertook with Norway’s top military marching band—drums and horns.” A mandolin picks sweetly, almost alone, then the fiddles swoop in, the other instruments arrive, more of the military band, the drums…the tune thickens and rolls to a marching beat, grumbles like a sea, then sweeps back to folk and fiddles again. Order is restored; the other instruments come back—jazz intervenes—they swap around, hesitating on the edge of the sea, dunking a toe in but never descending, teasing on the brink.
A guitar in the title song lays down its chords with a regular chop-chop-chop, and the fiddles mount these regular chops as if they were stairs, getting higher and more intense as they go. Everything is firmly done, and even their excitement is firm. A mandolin trots like a pony through “Maple Cake Farm”, and they rise around it, light and blissful. The folk music, updated by the band, is brisk but not explosive—there’s not a moment when the album really takes off and outstrips itself, but nonexplosiveness is only a problem if you’re trying to explode, which doesn’t seem to be their aim. “[T]he audience goes crazy,” says Järvelä, thinking of their live shows. Grannen doesn’t go crazy. It finds its own level of happiness and nests there, immaculate.