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(52:35, Uulu Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Ikaro 8:12 2. Vapahtaja 7:29 3. Heijastumia 5:18 4. Kastepisaroita I 4:15 5. Kastepisaroita II 5:22 6. Sateentuoksuisia Unia 4:54 7. Hetsataloushoomei 6:26 8. Kuun Tytar 10:39 LINEUP: Marko Niittymaki - mandolin, banjo, guitar; percussion; vocals Sampo Salonen – vocals; didgeridoo, doshpulur, percussion Antero Mentu – guitar, sitar; tambura; vocals Petra Poutanen – vocals; kantele Panu Ukkonen – clarinet; vocals Kusti Rintala – drums
Prolusion. The Finnish band AALTO was founded in 2007, and following an initial demo release in 2008 they made their debut with "Tuulilabyrintit" in 2012. "Ikaro" is their second full-length production, and was released through the Finnish label Uulu Records in 2014.
Analysis. The Finnish prog scene hasn't gotten quite the same stature or popularity as the Swedish or Norwegian one, for some reason or another, but from the few albums I've had the pleasure to investigate hailing from the land of the thousand lakes the scene there is just as vital in terms of producing bands that explore high quality music. That many Finnish bands prefer to release material in their native tongue may have something to do with this, as the Finnish language is rather unlike most other European ones. But as far as music is concerned, they know their stuff in Finland too. In the case of Aalto, they have chosen an approach with what appears to be a strong foundation in ethnic music and world music, liberally flavored with what most would describe as psychedelic elements, I guess. The didgeridoo is a recurring feature, as are multiple more or less exotic string instruments like the Finnish kantele, and a bass clarinet is another instrument that you'll encounter more often than not. The greater majority of the compositions revolve around certain fixed elements. The didgeridoo and the bass clarinet provide dark textures and basically set up an exotic sounding, mystical atmosphere – sometimes alternating, at other times combined. The guitar and various forms of string instruments provide the lighter toned elements, often in layered arrangements of frail, delicate textures where one or two instruments have the role of maintaining a firmer presence. The drummer has a tendency to go for drum patterns and percussion details that combine in what I generally describe as tribal sounds. Distinct world music percussion and rhythms in other words. Carefully controlled male and female lead vocals float on top, where the mesmerizing female lead vocals in particular make a grand impact on this occasion, perhaps due to the manner in which they contrast the darker, mystical sounds by the didgeridoo and bass clarinet. Personally I found Aalto to be least intriguing whenever they venture too close to the exotic folk music of the distinct tribal kind, with title track Ikaro being a case in point. A compositions with a slow build up and an equally slow subsiding journey towards silence again, where I, suspect, the aim has been to create a musical journey relying on repetitive cycles, creating a hypnotic presence combined with the gradual and subtle changes in intensity as the song builds up and down again, but that ends up as mainly repetitive for me, despite the use of throat singing. Later on Hetsataloushoomei is, at least to some extent, a creation with some similarities in that department, although this latter one is rather more intriguing in general. But whenever the band adds a touch of jazz to the proceedings, then I found myself listening intently to the sounds explored. I'm nowhere near being an avid jazz fan, but combined with the world music vibes Aalto have as their foundation the end result was, at least to my ears, breathtaking. Second track Vapahtaja is the best of the lot in that department, with a few others compositions being of a fairly equal stature.
Conclusion. Elegant, sophisticated, dark and mystical progressive folk music with a touch of jazz, thrown in for good measure, pretty much sums up the material Aalto explored on their second studio album "Ikaro". And while the album isn't quite perfect overall, there are plenty of blissful moments of pure magic at hand here, in a world music and ethnic Asian inspired music kind of way. Those fond of mystical atmospheres explored within a world music context should take note of this production straight away, especially if they are fond of excursions of this kind that also incorporate a few jazz-oriented details here and there.
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