An outstanding and surprising dose of Finnish art disco.
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.