PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Es: Sateenkaarisuudelma

Fonal label head's solo project is, again, sparse and beautiful.



Label: Fonal
US Release Date: 2008-06-24
UK Release Date: 2007-12-12

Being a label head has its advantages. You can, say, re-release your vinyl-only fourth album, expanded with recreations of the original watercolour artwork, in a way that still feels personal, and quite special. Not to gripe: for Sami Sänpäkkilä, head of Fonal Records, the objective has never seemed commercial. Part of the label’s continued high praise comes from its wilful asceticism -- it is the one label that’s perhaps most consistently embodied “wandering off into the woods to find Truth”. The label of Paavoharju and Shogun Kunitoki (and now Eleanoora Rosenholm).

Sänpäkkilä, in addition to his eight-year recording history as Es, released a DVD in 2006 of short films made to accompany his compositions. Something more than music videos, they illustrate the extremely visual nature of his music. Sänpäkkilä’s currently got a sound installation accompanying fellow Finn Tea Mäkipää’s photographic exhibit at P.S.1, which might give you a clue if you’re still unsure where this guy’s music fits into the modern music scene. Though Es has been labeled psychedelia and folk, it’s neither, really. It’s new classical music, influenced by those genres only as much as it is by minimalism and program music and the larger traditions of 20th century music. If there’s a common theme, it’s the open-eyed awe of nature, something Es continues to dedicate itself to with every bowed string or plucked guitar.

We’re really lucky to have the chance to discover Sateenkaarisuudelma, an album that through its medium was pretty limited when it was first released back in 2004. Furthermore, this new double-CD includes Maailmankaari/Pianokaari, an album with the two-part “Maailmankaari” suite and two other pieces that are, if it’s possible, even more rewarding than “Sateenkaarisuudelma” itself. We’ll get to those, but first things first.

“Saatenkarrisuudelma”, an eighteen-minute-long suite in three parts, is the sort of limpid minimal music that, quintessentially, rewards the engaged listener. Apart from the opening hymn, a minute and a half of foreign chant over shards of cracking light, vocals are non-existent or unobtrusive, wordless vowels. Rather than static atmosphere, regard these compositions as a journey -- they’re full of subtle changes that guide you forwards, towards a compelling conclusion. The elements are simple chamber ensemble, with violin, acoustic guitar, cello, and Casio keyboard, but together, Sänpäkkilä weaves bewitching sound. Electronics are also a key element of Es’s sound, and are used to treat and alter the instruments’ natural timbres and to stop-and-start noise and silence for dramatic effect.

This is patient, expansive music, so don’t expect seismic shifts or even big crescendos. “Harmonia, Rakkautta” hardly outlines a tonal centre, let alone actual chords, for most of its 22 minutes. Occasionally, Sänpäkkilä seems to revel in his lush sonic landscape a little too indulgently: we could have done without quite so many minutes of wave-wash, or this odd, garbled birdsong which -- almost -- begins to sound like one of those relaxation CDs of rainforest ambience you can get at the meditation store. But for the great majority of the time, Sänpäkkilä proves a steady and skilful guide to the sonic landscape he creates.

Oh, it can be beautiful. “Maailmankaari II” and “Pianokaari”, in particular, prove quietly devastating. “Maailmankaari II” uses a tinkling, tripping bell, evoking images of pastoral simplicity. It becomes, gradually, a nightmare of echoing guitars, stinging effects, and swathes of atonal noise; the sunny countryside twisted with the existential desolation of I’m Not Scared. “Pianokaari”, in contrast, is all of the beauty, none of the danger. At its opening, it reminds of a Sigur Rós track, though it’s more complex, and resists the easy payoff of maximal melodic arcs.

The two paper sleeves that Sateenkaarisuudelma is packaged in are printed with titles in opposite relief, as if one had been pressed into the other to create the title image. This careful symmetry may not be easily recognised in the music split across these two discs, but within each captivating work, Sänpäkkilä creates his own widescreen order. If you’re a fan of other Fonal artists, or you heard and liked the Efterklang albums of the past couple of years, you won’t want to miss this.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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