"Manages to take a million-and-one risks while keeping things subtle, understated, aesthetically intriguing, and emotionally resonant." -- Pitchfork "Much like the stateside phenomenon that has been questionably labeled `New Weird America,' the current folk and psych scene that has cropped up over the last few years in Finland spreads its wings over a variety of sounds, textures, and styles ranging from the noise freakouts and mantra-like drone minimalism of groups like Avarus to more straightforward, singersongwriter based material such as the aforementioned Kiila. Naukkarinen's work falls somewhere in between these two extremes, segueing effortlessly between abstract experimentation and gorgeously delicate folk harmonies." -- Dusted "Finnish folkster arrives just in time for the freak-folk craze, though her particular freak flag flies truer because she's an outsider--she hails from a close group of Finnish musicians. Kuutarha is heavy on weird vocal interplay and light on audibility. Listen extra closely and you'll hear an artist who's begging to be heard ... seemingly not of this world, yet very much grounded in its ancient sounds." -- Splendid "This new offering from the Finnish clan is a smattering of gentle melodies cloaked in the shambolic memories of the first buds of spring ... something that transcends language and culture." -- Foxy Digitalis Nukkuu (Finnish for "sleeps") is the long-awaited sophomore album by celebrated femme folk fave Lau Nau. Psychedelic, abstract, and emotionally captivating, Nukkuu is an album of changes. In the years since her celebrated debut album Kuutarha, Laura became a mother, moved to the Finnish countryside, and took valuable time to carve out a space for her enchanted art in the newfound tranquility of her remote surroundings. Conceived in tight attics and vacant dens when her young son Nuutti was fast asleep, this is an intimately crafted nine-song collection that unfolds like dreamlike musical ribbons for the senses and delivers the listener to a place of unhurried contentedness.
With oblique angles, high contrast, and blur, photographer Moriyama Daido has famously transfigured Japan's urban prosaic-- sewer gratings, stray dogs, strippers, bar patrons-- into stark, defamiliarizing visual poetry. This year, Finnish singer/multi-instrumentalist Laura Naukkarinen (aka Lau Nau), will provide the backdrop to an exhibition of Moriyama's prints with her own work. The pairing makes sense when you hear the first track of Lau Nau's sophomore album, Nukkuu. "Lue Kartalta" plucks, whistles, sings, and rings an almost-violent clash of pentatonic notes, converging in a discordant melee. Asian insinuations aside, Lau Nau's composition, like Moriyama's images, argues against complacency, taking sometimes-familiar/sometimes-not instruments and sounds and throwing them into a disorienting, disruptive new context.
Lau Nau has further scored several contemporary screenings of silent film classics (including, intriguingly, Carl Dreyer's gorgeous, solemn The Passion of Joan of Arc). Playing a subordinate role to others' work may seem incongruous given Lau Nau's distinct, obtrusive style, but her music just happens to be remarkably flexible. The album translates to "sleep", and I've taken afternoon naps to its wisped strands of melody and hypnotic drones. I've also, as on one soupy, heat-paralyzed day in July waiting for the bus with my iPod, become agitated, almost panicked, by "Rubiinilasia"'s confrontational drum punches, spooked moans and emergency sirens. Music for airports-- and chain retailers-- it ain't.
Of course, songs whose lyrics are lost in translation will always adapt more easily to a listener's environment or mental states. Record buyers outside of Finland will hear the relatively obscure tongue sung here as sleek syllabics phrased as incomprehensible incantations, it's easy to understand why someone might put Nukkuu to use as ambient backdrop. But the album-- steeped in new folk's idioms, particularly its psychedelic tangles of string, wind, and percussive instruments and Lau Nau's delicate, breathy, multitracked soprano-- does reward active listening, whether you seek out lyrical translations or not. "Painovoimaa, Valoa" is a ravishing lullaby adorned by Nukkuu's most lucid and insinuating melody, and rendered strange by the rusty creak of the jouhikko, or lap-violin. Another highpoint, "Vuoren Laelle" is a simple, measured, and beautiful piano-accompanied duet.
Nukkuu also reflects Finland's underground scene's experimental credos: tonal collisions, eerie piecing and sampling (such as "Mooste's" music box figment), and a vaguely pagan ceremonial vibe ("Jouhet" sounds like a sacrifice to a sun god, or possibly an alien landing). Naukkarinen migrated to her country's isolated hinterlands after the recent birth of a son, but her CV documents her tenure in collectives including Kiila, Hertta Lussu Ässä, and Avarus, and she recruited former colleague Pekko Käppi, as well as partner Antti Tolvi, to support her on Nukkuu.
Lau Nau's press materials report that the album was written and recorded in the stolen intervals spacing her child's naps, and that it reflects her newfound rural domestic bliss. As lovely (and convenient from a marketing standpoint) as this narrative reads, Nukkuu doesn't actually depart much from its also-excellent predecessor, 2005's Kuutarha. Which is probably a good thing. Lau Nau's chosen medium offers ample room for variation and growth. And with the exception of scene flagship, Paavoharju, Finland's exciting sounds have only slowly, sparingly slipped its borders. So Lau Nau's ethereal vocals, original structures and arcane orchestra of instruments (that include, according to the liners, Estonian 10-string kantele, baby phones, Russian candy bird flute and homemade horsehair bows), are all still refreshingly new to most of us.
- Amy Granzin, August 4, 2008