Burning Hearts: Extinctions

On its sophomore album, the Finnish indie pop band observes the fierce order of the natural world with a detached, yet tuneful, approach.

Burning Hearts


US Release: 2012-02-21
Label: Shelflife
UK Release: 2012-02-01
Label website
Artist website

While it may have been admiration for the natural order that drew Christopher McCandless and Timothy Treadwell toward their respective, doomed journeys into the Alaskan wilderness, it was also inevitable that both would be overwhelmed by the same fierce immutability. Burning Hearts evoke both Treadwell (explicitly) and McCandless (implicitly) on Extinctions, a studio-sleek pop album that admires the grandeur and perils of nature from a safe distance.

The band, led by songwriting duo Jessika Rapo and Henry Ojala, recorded their second album not in Alaska, but in the Ostrobothnian countryside on Finland's west coast. They previously used this pastoral setting as lyrical inspiration for their 2011 EP Into the Wilderness, two songs from which are seamlessly included here. There are some well-trodden narratives for artists who pull the return-to-nature move, so it's to Burning Hearts' credit that neither of these releases rely on the tired tropes of acoustic guitars and folky earnestness. Rapo and Ojala don't treat the absence of urban life as a blank upon which to gush out a memoir or imagine and dubiously recreate an idyllic past. To do so would be to miss the drama and inspirational possibilities of the world that's left when you scrape away the comforts of modern life.

Musically speaking, Extinctions doesn't affect a back-to-basics aesthetic, either. In fact, it's considerably more lavish and more obviously the work of a seasoned live unit than the band's synth-heavy debut, Aboa Sleeping. Yet even with the greater emphasis on live drums, bass-driven melodies, and hooky clean guitar leads, these tracks are sparingly constructed, with every tastefully swooping lick given space to make an impression and Rapo's voice ever the focus. The stark and functional familiarity of the band's indie pop reflect the laws governing the beasts, men, and landscapes of the lyrics.

On "Into the Wilderness", Rapo is "returning to the nightmare" of the Alaskan tundra, laying out the rules that Treadwell neglected to follow: "The animal with the strongest paw / Mixed friends with prey / It's nature's law." Rapo's delivery falls somewhere between a Nico monotone and the relaxed tunefulness of Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell, which lends the song and the rest of the album an air of detached observation but with a hint of sympathy. She's not much for fancy runs or melodrama even at her most enraptured or distraught, which often works to the music's advantage. For instance, she's able to pull off lines like "This is our world / A sacred place to be" ("The Swallows") with enough gravity to narrowly avoid treehugger schmaltz. She keeps a respectful distance on "On the Last Day of the Decade", seemingly a meditation on the 2009 Sello mall shooting in Espoo, Finland. When the band turns its attention to personal relationships on "Love and Dissonance", it's Rapo's calm tone that keeps things anchored even on potential sap like "Beautiful, beautiful you / Sing me our song the way you used to do."

Rapo's emotional distancing and seemingly equivocal attitude towards man's role in the wild is at its best, however, when underscoring lyrical ambiguities. Are those wings that "aren't good for flying" on "Modern Times" meant to be literal? Does "The Beast" portray human fears metaphorically in terms of predator and prey ("What if I woke up feeling that I wasted all these years and got nothing in return?") or is the song actually about the top of a natural food chain upended by man ("You think that you are a king / But in the blink of an eye, you could go extinct / My head and fur's trophies, my heart's on a plate / Everyone likes a piece of the beast"). Rapo's objective tone keeps you guessing.

The downside to Burning Hearts' subtle and understated approach is that their music comes across as slightly low-stakes. There's a lot to admire here, both lyrically and compositionally, but the lack of dynamic highs and lows make it a solid, rather than outstanding, work. Regardless, the prettiness of the music and its intersection with the harsh natural world of the lyrics mark Extinctions as a rare bird worth checking out.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.