A slight deviation in sound for Lau Nau, but they remain at their best when reverting to type.
Fronted by Laura Naukkarinen, Valohiukkanen is Finnish band Lau Nau’s third album. Both debut album Kuutarha and follow up Nukkuu have seen Lau Nau earn a reputation for producing haunting, spectral and cinematic music. Bringing a distinctly Finnish flavour, incorporated with wider Scandanavian sounds, they have been lauded as belonging in the same exalted company as Sigur Ros, Valgeir Sigurðsson and Múm. Lau Nau remains rooted in their Finnish culture, Naukkarinen singing in Finnish throughout the album which lends an authentic feel to her songs as does Pekko Kappi’s jouhikko playing, a small traditional, two- or three-stringed bowed lyre whose strings are made of horsehair. The plying of the jouhikko died out in the early 20th century but has been revived and is put to use beautifully on this album.
Valohiukkanen starts as fans of Lau Nau might expect -- hushed vocal groans and muted piano which break into Naukkarinen’s soft sweet voice (which after repeat listening suddenly calls to mind Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser) on opener “Valolle”. This could be 15th century choral music such is the reverential air it evokes. Guitar and jouhikko embrace the ears on “Ystäväni Nosferatu” gently lapping to and fro against Naukkarinen’s voice as she sings about her friend Nosferatu (the title translates as My Friend, Nosferatu). It is on the third track “Kuoleman tappajan kuolema” that the first deviation in Lau Nau’s music comes in. It is an urgent track that is sung at a much higher tempo and is accompanied by an almost disco beat with thwacks of thunder claps thrown in until about half way through when it slows downs and an operatic vocal comes in before the song slowly grinds to a halt.
I saw the band live at Eurosonic this year and there is more urgency and vibrancy on stage which works brilliantly, but on record, Lau Nau really work when they don’t push or force things, allowing the majesty of the vocals, the gorgeous Finnish language and the intriguing and complementary array of instruments (in addition to the jouhikka, there is an alto clarinet, a grand piano and a celestra) come together naturally.
“Juokse sinä humma” is another more uptempo track but sounds more like a folk song rather than a hybrid folk/disco track; it's probably all the better for it. The song fairly rattles along and has some distorted feedback/effects going on but it really is a belter of a song. Interestingly, next up is the only song sung in English, “Paperthin” a '60s psyche folk track which is lovely but for me doesn’t possess the same aura as the songs sung in the Finnish dialect. Then, the album closer, “Silmat”, encapsulates Lau Nau: A dreamy, haunting piano and celestra-led piece, Lau Nau’s vocals are hushed and reverential, restrained despite the feeling that there is a desire to break out, or away, from who knows what. It is a lovely way to close an album, set adrift on memory bliss.