Islaja: Keraaminen Pää

Photo: Jari Kaariainen

It's difficult to explain, without sounding hyperbolic, how sculptural this album seems, how this combination of solid stomps and "gas" forms itself into an impression of an actual voluminous object.


Keraaminen Pää

Label: Fonal
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-09-13

"I want to trap the fear into a corridor and fill it up with gas or concrete …"

This is, says the publicity sheet, the first Islaja album to include translated lyrics in the booklet. Born and raised in Helsinki, and associated with the Finnish psyche-folk Fonal label, collaborator with several other experimental folk groups, a woman who has toured with Lau Nau, Thurston Moore, and Animal Collective, she sings with a feeling for space and weight, leaning slowly into the first few lines of the opening track, "Joku Toi Radion", as if the album is a boulder that needs to be pushed before it can start rolling. Nothing she says sounds trivial or whimsical, even when the translations come across that way, such as when she sings "Say what? A dance? Okay! Okay! Yeah! … What? Alright!", or "A big tree helped find the spot on this beach/You had marked the map with an anchor and star".

The anchor-and-star song opens with a press of waxy fog, then a piano rising up a string of notes, and something else that might be a French horn. This is that sense of weight and space coming into play again. The fuzzy, muddled noise and the defined, ascending noise come apart from one another, air appears between them, and there is a feeling of something lifting off. "Gas or concrete" is not a bad way of describing the way she seems to regard her instruments and sound effects. One sound will represent dissolution, wandering or fumbling, or tip-toeing in confusion, while another will strike down, stomping along, completely decisive. Sometimes, the stomping role is played by a sound effect that really does sound like stomping -- it's as if someone in hard boots is making their way along a gravel path -- and sometimes, the stomp-motif is picked up by the piano, and then we hear chords.

The instruments change character. At times, the piano tinkles itself out of the role of concrete and into the role of gas. Ideas appear and are reworked. The hesitant note, the fear, meets its decisive oppressor again and again in different circumstances. Another voice comes in, male, husky, and not like hers. The two voices hold a debate. It's difficult to explain, without sounding hyperbolic, how sculptural this album seems, how this combination of solid stomps and "gas", joined by her singing, with its slight Scandinavian lisp, forms itself into an impression of an actual voluminous object. The object is a landscape, perhaps, and the album travels through it, beginning slowly with the boulder-push, becoming rowdier, then dissolving into confusion, reassembling itself with "Ajanlaskun Aatto" and finishing on an uncertain note with "Yövalo". "Yövalo" clangs, there is a drunk trumpet, and a noise like a stack of cardboard boxes falling over at the other end of a corridor. Alternatively, the cardboard boxes might be thunder. Most of her sound effects exist in an uneasy borderland between one thing and another.

The folk-forest atmosphere of her last studio album has been superseded, and the forest has been replaced by a cold beach, or large room, something spacious, where noises echo. Keraaminen Pää is dominated by the melancholy threat or yearning that hangs between the tentative noises and the stamping. It finishes without a climax, and we're left to wonder whether this fear will ever come to an end, if the stamping-thing will catch its misty victim, and then what?






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.