Oh, art rock... avant garde... mind you, I've never been good at categories. I doubt if Vuk has been either, but in a good way. This music asks for some activity in less used parts of the brain, I can see that. Well, there are plenty of them in my case, Vuk will be spoiled for choice. I'm not complaining! This is good! I've been listening to a lot of pop lately, very good pop, because it's Finnish, but maybe I've become a little lazy. Expect the cosy and familiar and you won't get far with Exile!
So, what's 'difficult' about the album? What's 'arty'? I'm kinda thinking this is to music what Miranda July's You And Me And Everyone We Know is to film, recognisable about the familiar world but seen from a parallel universe. One or two of the songs here felt like what you'd get if David Lynch were asked to write A Song For Europe.
This album took more than the usual amount of effort to get hold of. It was released in 2003 by a small Helsinki label, Verdura Records (see below). My impression is that though Finnish-American, as far as music is concerned she's mostly been surrounded by the Finnish music scene. This was her first album. She's sort of a group but has played solo on stage apparently. Which must be quite interesting to see, if all these instruments come in to play. There are a lot of them, and some you might find people keep more for DIY purposes.
The first few notes: so mournful. Then the plaintive chant; this is Exile!, featuring a singing saw, and even when you know what it is, it's an eerie sound. One of the few things not played by Vuk herself. I guess she wanted to still have ten fingers after they were done. More incantation follows in Daylight (no1), done to the backing of a monotone industrial rhythm. Vuk's voice as throughout is spaced backwards, slightly echoey, and it's an alienating effect, complementing the disconcerting offbalancing of the music... but there's some flighty notes as the song goes on. I don't want to leave the impression that it's all downbeat; there are little details like that, and many moments all the way through, which lift the spirit. Listen to the third track, The Gardener, gentle and wordless and soothing until its tail. Log-book contrasts her lilting and soaring verse with a pulsing and another mechanical rhythm something like a limping robot. And a blues sensibility enters the story.
Five tracks in and there's a sudden burst of normality, in the form of a more familar rhythm and a poignant melody; the electronic organ is playing a pretty tune; Anatomy draws you in, then leaves you awkwardly poised within as it abstracts itself in staccato beats. But this and the next track Something Sinister are the tracks I've gone back to most often. Though this song is a very different proposition, a slow and threatening slice of Gothic blues, sweetly magnificent. ...Looking at the booklet; did she really play all the instruments? Something Sinister contains some delicious guitar work. That, I'd love to see/hear live. PS - there's a nice Nosferatu-style pic in the booklet, just a shadow on the ground.
Talking of the booklet, there's a page of Finnish near the end "Sitten äänet vyöryivät jälken päälleni" "Then the sounds(voices?) surged up in my head" ...Something like that? Could describe what much of the album is like. Actually when I read that I was looking forward to hearing her sing in Finnish. Never happened though. The rest of the songs: I love Interlude; think about the Turin Shroud listening to Veronica (no2); am energised by but relieved by the end of Quebec (no3)'s insistent angsty chant, all agitation and turmoil; and then I sit back to be bathed in the evening glow of The Bridge's gospel blues. Like listening to a faded old 78. She gets out the accordion for Tango pour Antoine... the odd thing is, I should say this sounds like a completely different record; those instruments, that style, it's in French; but there it is. It's another photo in the album, this time a kind of Robert Doisneau image ... I think she feels badly let down by Antoine. It does sound as if he's been insensitive to say the least.
I've heard Björk invoked by way of comparison. Possibly. But I'm not sure you should expect the like, just because she's not doing the normal thing. To say 'quirky' would be lazy too. When I listen to Exile!, I hear and recognise some influences (I imagine), she naturally has some musical connections; but at times I heard tones of eg. Fiona Apple and I daresay that's purely an issue for me(!). The thing is, Exile! is an impressive display of diverse musicality, a circus of fanciful sounds, with islands of strained familiar blues and gospel. And Old Europe. Mostly music tends to touch on emotions through recognition but this more provokes ideas and feelings you didn't know you had. I should talk about the poetic imagery... but this is already long enough :) I wondered at times if it was no more than a showpiece of her ability, but it does have some coherence in that: this was her art at that point of time. I suspect it'll all become much clearer with the next album. But thank you for this one. I felt like I'd brought a box down from the attic, stumbled, and out had poured a load of old black and white photos, scratchy black plastic discs and forgotten diaries. What's with the spiders and butterflies?
12 January 2008
Verdura Records in Helsinki was responsible for Exile!, so there's a little bit of information here, and also here is where you'll have to go to get that first album. It took a little while, because I didn't fancy PayPal, so I found myself sticking some spare euros inside some bubble wrap and trusting to luck. Anyway, they're helpful and do their best to facilitate.
Dusted has this page here surveying what the writer feels is a wave of new artistic rock coming out of Finland. And Vuk is one of the artists who are doing this artistic rock thing, so Exile! is listed and commented on.