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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Lau Nau
Locust Music

Rating: 9/10 ?

May 6, 2005
As phonetically mind-boggling and largely irrelevant as Finnish songstress Laura Naukkarinen's artist bio may be to most of us English-as-an-only-language speaking, domestic album buying gringos, it bears regurgitating to establish some sense of context - even if that context may as well involve centaurs, ice palaces, and wizards for all practical purposes. Kuutarha is Naukkarinen's first solo album, but she's played an integral part in Finland's leftfield folk scene for quite some time now, contributing vocals to Kiila, Päivänsäde, and The Anaksimandros. Along with acts like Avarus, Kemialliset Ystaveat, Minulläkuu, and Kivielee (that last two of which are complete and total figments of my imagination), Lau Nau's projects have begun to draw international eyes and ears towards the New Weird Finland, and this album will likely prove a boon to this community of creators, as the first such record to see widespread release in the US.

Allow me to inject a word of warning, if I may, to any of you who may have gotten the impression that we've got ourselves a Scandinavian Joanna Newsom. I'm fully aware that the following statement has become the amateur music critic equivalent to smugly mentioning that you're not one of those people who gets cable to coworkers, family members, and random passersby, but I'm going to make it anyway, because, well, it's actually true in this case: Kuutarha is not a pop record, at least in any sense that we use the term in this country (and probably not in any Finnish sense either, I'm guessing).

Between Daydream Nation, Trout Mask Replica and Music Has a Right to Children, the landscape of albums purchased by more than 50,000 people has received a good mind-opening or two in our country, but Lau Nau is operating in an entirely different universe of sound, you dig? This is a droning, twisting, hallucinogenic chunk of psych-folk fit to shame the Jeweled Antler collective, made all the more alien by Naukkarinen's Finnish lyrics and her horde of unorthodox instruments (including a baby rattle, beer cans, kanteles, bamboo flutes, jouhikko, and tablas).

In spite of its failure to slide into even the most awkward pop music niche, Kuutarha nevertheless begs to become many a listener's point of fixation, source of meditation and object of adoration. Its instrumentation functions on multiple levels. Acoustic string instruments magically fall into a logical place, being plucked with grace, patience and deliberateness, and providing each song's underpinning while leaving plenty of room for the other elements and chill-inducing silences. Percussion, meanwhile, drunkenly staggers along the sidewalk, veering into traffic, stumbling over cracks in the pavement, skipping beats and causing observers to wonder if it will ever find its way home (and somehow, it does). Warped electric guitars drone along, mimicking sitars and broadening the array of sounds rather than cluttering up the open spaces. Naukkarinen's voice draws all of these disparate elements together; she's both cunning seductress and awestruck child, nimble melody maker and wandering rambler.

And the songs themselves? Transcendental bullion, my friend. Though Naukkarinen allows/forces a number of opposing forces to act in a given moment, I refuse to believe that the cohesion, litheness and fluidity that pervade Kuutarha is merely a happy accident. Perhaps I was onto something with the centaurs and wizards and whatnot - only some bizarre sort of sorcery could allow songs so rife with tension and conflict to move about so freely and confidently. I submit "Johdattaja-Joleen" as evidence; the song drips spirit juice all over the place, from the plinky doctored electric guitar in its first minute to the way that Naukkarinen weaves this bleating and bleeping debris into a yearning, pulsing lullaby by the time the track ends. Any mere mortal can dismantle a catchy tune (Lau Nau herself indulges in such destructive behavior on a couple of occasions), but only the spiritually attuned can build something out of nothing.

The entire album succeeds through a sort of alchemy that defies easy explanation; not only do the two sides of the equation not balance out, but they're written in the numerical systems of two completely different sets of indigenous peoples. Even when Naukkarinen's feeding us something a bit easier to swallow, like "Hunnun"'s slate grey, Midwest indie electric guitar notes, something about these songs feels ancient and mysterious. I'm hearing gauzy feedback underneath it all, but the compositions as wholes conjure images of fatalistic warrior tribes and pagan funeral pyres. And yet, I'm not scared in the least bit - we all may have a common destiny in the pit of the Earth and the same ancient story may merely be writing itself over again with us as the characters, but there's a creator and an order in Kuutarha, and in spite of the nagging sensation in my gut that comes from believing in a god who's existence I can't begin to fathom or explain, there are centaurs playing pan pipes and a snow white virgin waiting for me in the north tower of the ice palace, and a deep, deep, deep sense of peace.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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