nthony Burgess’ The Wanting Seed is in some respects a traditional sci-fi novel. It explores many of the anxieties of modern life familiar to sci-fi readers: mechanization, overpopulation, pollution. In it, the vaguely authoritarian government endorses homosexuality as a means to control the birth rate, and officials in the hive-like cities can only rise through the ranks by flaunting their same-sex loves. Despite the futuristic trappings of the book, Burgess wisely reserves the countryside as the place where traditional life hasn’t been fully usurped, where farming is still practiced, large families are raised, and the people protect their traditions against the modern tide. Burgess depicts what most novelists and cultural critics ignore: time does not flow at the same rate for everyone. In the grand quest to predict the future, we homogenize time and distribute its effects evenly over the populace. But some pockets will refuse this process and stay stubbornly nineteenth century when we’re barreling through the 21st.
Paavoharju sounds like the product of such a pocket. And according to the story, it is. Paavorharju supposedly derives from a group of born-again Christians in the Finnish hinterlands making music to soundtrack their religious rediscovery. If I sound skeptical, it’s due to a snobbish reluctance to admit that a work of such nuance and grandeur was produced by born-again Christians. Perhaps if I could translate the lyrics, sung in gossamer soprano, I’d understand the religious intent of the album. Instead, I can only appreciate the reverence that infuses Yhä Hämärää, hear the spirits whispering in the dense, foggy tracks, and shudder at the ferocity of these gentle devotionals.
Of course the boundaries between the stuck-in-time and the speeding-through-time are fluid, and an exchange is perennially taking place between them. Technology cannot be fully denied, nor can the nostalgic pull of a simpler life. As a result, most of us live in a state of blurred time, in which the past and the present pull us in opposing directions, separating mind from moment. Unable to live in the unburdened present, we exist on a battleground of time.
Paavoharju has weathered many such battles, and their schizophrenic music reflects this. Yhä Hämärää is a collision of squelchy beats, choral vocals, digital filters, acoustic guitars, and medieval arrangements. But this is not folktronica from a mouse-clicking fellow with a few Nick Drake records to spice up his early Autechre ripoffs. Yhä Hämärää speaks of real conflict, real devotion, real love, as presented through the idioms of several eras simultaneously. If Paavoharju hews closer to the ascetic, traditional side of things, it’s because they find there a mindset more amenable to their wide-eyed awe. Cynics beware: this is not a record awash in self-referentiality, tongue-in-cheek posturing, and calculated nostalgia. Yhä Hämärää traps heartbeats on tape.
Opener “Ikuisuuden Maailma” lays the unsteady foundation for the album. In a haze of circular guitars, vinyl crackles, and boreal synths, Lauri Ainalu’s voice and a cawing bird reach for open air, only to be blanketed by a rising wall of hi-fi fuzz. Something like an accordion sounds their lament while the Ainalu coos confusion. Finally, the vocals emerge treated with gorgeous Doppler echoes, and the rolling waves of sound subside beneath her feet. The song succeeds by dint of sheer density and passion.
After the slow pace of “Maailma” the hyperactive beats beginning “Valo Tikhu Kaiken Lapi” come as something of a surprise. But an acoustic guitar quickly restores order. Buoyed by its beats, this track is considerably faster and slicker than most of the album, but thanks to the passionate vocals, it still maintains its aura of serenity.
Though Paavoharju is admirably consistent, Yhä Hämärää’s piano-driven tracks provide its highlights. “Kuu lohduttaa huolestuneita” and “Puhuri” drag the piano’s pensive notes back to the antique cherry-paneled drawing room. “Puhuri” is the more unsettling of the two, swathing the piano in multi-tracked drowning voices and swirling effects, while “Kuu” taps a simpler beauty, despite the crunchy analogue throb below the surface.
Paavoharju’s norm is so left of center that their deviations from it result in the most straightforward songs on the album. “Kuljan Kauas” nods to Doors-ian psych-rock, albeit with a cracked minstrel edge. Finally, the closer “Musta Katu” delivers something akin to reggae if the genre was birthed in the depths of the Finnish woods rather than Jamaican beaches. If that sounds disastrous, rest assured—it’s not. Reggae provides a spiritual inspiration for the track rather than a direct influence.
In fact, Paavoharju seems generally immune to direct influences, though their spiritual inspirations are many. The group makes psychedelic music born of cabin fever rather than hallucinogenics, and in their solitude, they have crafted an album that fits snugly within the temporal schism dividing many of us.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: SEPTEMBER 5 – SEPTEMBER 11, 2005
Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2005-09-05