With the release of Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs, 2004 proved that classification isn’t necessary for one to be able to enjoy a record. Later in the year, Dungen’s Ta Det Lugnt made a case for music being universal and not cultural, as the Swedish psych-rockers won over an American audience without singing a word of English. By these standards, Kuutarha, the solo debut by Lau Naukkarinen, vocalist in Finnish group The Anaksimondros, should become equally revered Stateside. And in all honesty, it deserves every bit of praise as those two groundbreaking albums.
Kuutarha, first and foremost, is sung entirely in Lau Nau’s native tongue, which could leave some American listeners hesitant to dive in. But when you take into account that many of the lyrics aren’t even actually words, but harmonized vocal textures and humming, the album becomes instantly more accessible. Then, compare it to the made-up language of Sigur Ros, and at least it has some basis in actual spoken languages. That said, Naukkarinen’s vocals are sweet and lovely, if a bit unusual, making for a pleasant and adventurous musical experience.
On tracks like “Kuula,” Naukkarinen creates folky, atmospheric musical textures that fall between Animal Collective and The Books, as they contain the fun, free-spiritedness of the former and the cerebral, special texturing of the latter. Yet on “Pläkkikanteletar,” Lau Nau creates a more haunting ambience that’s somewhat more spooky, albeit strangely soothing. “Johdattahja – Joleen” sounds like a more experimental Django Reinhardt, recorded on wax cylinder, with plenty of analog hiss and found sound mixed in for effect. And “Hunnun” is simple and melodic, utilizing as much space as it does actual musical notes.
Take a look at Lau Nau’s credits on Locust Music’s Website and you’ll discover something more amazing — her choice of instruments. Aside from guitars and percussion, among the many instruments played on Kuutarha are beer cans, a baby’s rattle, a bike bell, colorful juice glasses and a “witch laugh megaphone,” whatever that is. All of these add to the mystery of the record, as well as the quirkiness. Kuutarha is unlike pretty much anything you’ll hear all year and you won’t understand a word. But it doesn’t really matter. This is challenging, beautiful music and I’m rather surprised that some other online trend-setters haven’t beaten us in saying that already.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.