[1 December 2008]
Only a few months ago, Finnish art/goth electronica group Eleanoora Rosenholm’s debut Vainajan Muotokuva found its way to the US. The album was released last year back in Finland, but even so, the celerity of follow-up (first the Tammen Varjossa EP, and now a sophomore full length) is remarkable—no sooner had we recovered from the dark, ambiguously enveloping foreign-language electropop of the first album, here’s Ala Kysy Kuolleilta, He Sanoivat, with more oppressive but enveloping soundscapes.
There’s still precious little to be gathered about the group itself by way of biography. If you don’t understand Finnish, again, you’ll have to be led by the sparse information on Fonal’s website and in various corners of the internet. The background the group provides, though, reads as disjointed and, frankly, disturbing: “The nun has been desecrated in the monastery and the school’s principal mutilated in the primary school’s woodshed.” The group takes this mythology of horror movies and death metal and applies it to electropop that approaches the Knife, but isn’t quite as singular of vision. And not just the mythology—the sudden clicks and fuzzy guitar squeal in “Epailen Sinua” actually made me look around behind me in alarm.
Though it can be off-putting to be thrown rudderless into this somewhat threatening sonic world, as on their debut, Eleanoora Rosenholm select some unexpectedly recognizable touchstones around which to construct their complex, engaging music. Despite its presumably oppressive subject matter, “Ambulanssikuskitar” begins with something of Kylie Minogue’s bright, straightforward electropop (there are “doo-doo-doo"s). “Tai-Panin Paholainen”, a highlight of the disc, weaves through its cello and warped folk-band vibe a straightforward vocal melody and “bom bom” a capella bassline that’s almost as jaunty as something by, say, Likke Li. Throughout, vocalist Eleanoora Rosenholm (a pseudonym) uses the explosive, pixie-esque vowels of the Finnish language to great effect—on “Pesulassa”, for example, they elevate the jaunty arpeggios of the melody into something more urgent and compelling.
In addition to the obvious dance-pop tropes of these songs, there’s a stronger element of twisted folklore and folk music running through Ala Kysy Kuolleilta, He Sanoivat than found on the debut. Swathes of cello, strings, and aching guitar interjections contribute to the full timbre of each tune. The album walks a fine line of atmospheric terror, only once slipping over it into cliché. That’s on “Bolly Palkkionmetsästäjä”, in which the brutish, treated male interjections seem more fake-metal than relentless viciousness. In fact, when Eleanoora Rosenholm are pairing high, Italo-style synths with their Gothic tales they are by far more effective. That there’s plenty of this on this album shows that the group is cognizant of this fact.
In the end, what makes Ala Kysy Kuolleilta, He Sanoivat at least as successful as the arresting first album is the consistency of the music. Eleanoora Rosenholm, from the opening notes through the haunting, balladic finale, transport you completely to an alternate world. Yes, it’s full of mürder, Ambulansses, Astronautti, and who knows what else, so you have to decide if you actually want to journey there. But if the quality and volume of this group’s output so far is an indication, Eleanoora Rosenholm should be creating the soundtrack for that voyage whenever you feel like taking it.