Eleanoora Rosenholm: Vainajan Muotokuva

An outstanding and surprising dose of Finnish art disco.

Eleanoora Rosenholm

Vainajan Muotokuva

Label: Fonal
First date: 2007-05-12
US Release Date: 2008-06-24
UK Release Date: 2008-06-09

The flipside of all the gnomes is darkness – monsters, hauntings, Beowulf. Scandinavian music in recent times has been all chirp, but Finland has stayed relatively out of the discussion. There's a strong tradition over there of the (relatively marginalized) genre of death metal, true. But the country has been largely absent from the discussion of Scandinavian music over the past few years. In the background, quietly, the label Fonal has been putting out ascetic and challenging records by artists like Paavoharju and Shogun Kunitoki. That label and the country's indie profile should rise somewhat among those who hear this new group, Eleanoora Rosenholm.

Eleanoora Rosenholm isn’t a single woman, but the name of a Finnish collective of musicians who have come together from various individual pursuits and made a record for Fonal that’s dark enough to perfectly accompany their namesake’s perhaps made-up 1959 suicide note (archived at their website). Does this make Vainajan Muotokuva a “suicide concept album”? Not being a Finnish speaker, I can't really say. Ether way, there's enough Gothic romanticism offered here to justify the thought.

But the story's a bit more interesting than that, because Eleanoora Rosenholm aren't really making outsider music. Vainajan Muotokuvais basically a lush art pop/disco album that recalls Shara Worden's work as My Brightest Diamond. Singer Noora Tommila delivers her words with a lack of demonstrative emotion. Whether this comes across as innocent or eerie depends on your own point of view. But it certainly makes for a refreshing sound. The vocals are consistently placed far forward in the mix, and generally dominate Eleanoora Rosenholm's sound, further arguing for the group's pop orientation. In this context, even the unfamiliar, consonant-heavy Finnish language becomes an addictive confection.

Because the MOA is art pop, really, the drifting off into atmospheric string arrangements is par for the course. The wide variety of textures and influences is to the album's credit. From tribal, Hercules & Love Affair-esque beats to Bjorkian swoons to Roisin Murphy-style vocal affect, Eleanoora Rosenholm prove themselves much more than a quirky novelty. Once, on "Kiltti Vai Tuhma", the atmosphere turns J-pop, and could be the soundtrack to a Miyazaki film-closing montage.

A pair of songs at each end of the album paint Eleanoora Rosenholm's style in irresistible relief. "Musta Ruusu" could be informed by the stylistic restlessness of Architecture in Helsinki, wrapped up in artful ghost stories and nightmare visions. The track opens all unsettled, huffing electro-cascade, relaxes into an acoustic folk song, and ends with lush electronic pop, laced with strings. Closer "Maailmanloppu", which according to one translation is a vast annihilation fantasy, lays its sparkling melody over rattling, trotted-out percussion. The video shows singer Tommila disposing of the severed head of a murdered lover, while snow falls across her face.

Maybe it is the very foreign sound of the Finnish language that contributes to the overall charm of Vainajan Muotokuva, but the truth is that the album would be outstanding in any language. Further, you don't need to be into the abstract experimentation of other Fonal artists to be won over by the romanticism and dark disco winding easily around these songs. If you're feeling in the mood for something a little different, take a listen – this remarkable album deserves to be heard.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

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

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