As we journey into the second half of 2015 we thought it might be nice to take a moment to reflect a little on some of our favourite albums of the year so far, one from each of our beloved Nordic countries.
Having spent years tinkering away in his native Finland, Jaakko Eino Kalevi has been honing his craft as a master of slowjams, in a warped alternate reality, where Master Of Slowjams is a legitimate profession. Though in many ways Jaakko Eino Kalevi feels like a début record, it isn’t. His second release for Domino Recordings imprint Weird World, it is the first full-length album he’s released outside of Finland, however. Though his back catalogue at home is pretty extensive, this is, for many, their first trip down the rabbit hole.
The fact this is many people’s first taste of his music is the reason he decided to make this album self-titled. Speaking in an interview with Clash Magazine, he elaborates: “”I played the ‘self-titled’ card this time because for many people this album will be their first encounter with my music. Also, I get my name misspelled so often that I think it’s good to focus on that at this point.”
This also gives you an idea of his sense of humour, and there is humour here, in the music. Not necessarily gags (though he may well be cracking jokes in Finnish throughout, we’re sadly none the wiser on that front) but in the sense that there’s a lot of playfulness in many of his arrangement choices. Jaakko Eino Kalevi doesn’t feel like an album overly bogged down in its own seriousness, it feels like a record you play at 4AM when you and your friends have all piled into someone’s apartment after a night out but still want to dance.
Jaakko Eino Kalevi may feel like a début to Jaakko himself, as well, in the sense that it’s the first one he’s made working with a producer to help with the mixing, recruiting Nicolas Vernhes and spending time in Brooklyn to work on the album. Though the songs were still recorded in Finland, it’s been a year of change for him, having quit his job as a tram driver in Helsinki and relocated to Berlin. It may not be a début, but it certainly feels like a fresh start, and if it is your first encounter with his music, a good place to begin as it encompasses a lot of what he does best.
Though it’s clear from little sonic nods throughout the record that his musical influences are pretty varied, it’s a testament to his skill that Jaakko Eino Kalevi does sound as cohesive as it does. Arpeggiating synths on both the opener ‘J.E.K.’ and closer ‘Ikuinen Purkautumaton Jännite’ feel like a downtempo take on space disco, and as such are perfect bookends for the album – one takes you into Jaakko’s world, and the other sends you off deep into outer space. Throughout the record there is this distinct other-worldly quality; you feel like you’re spending time in a place that looks a lot like somewhere you know, but somehow everything’s just a little askew.
The dreamlike quality of Jaakko Eino Kalevi’s music is often discussed, and it’s easy to see why. The first two reasons are obvious – he has an EP called Dreamzone and has mentioned in interviews that he’s been known to take lyrical inspirations from reading posts on a dream forum. The main reason is more that the core of his music often has a tempo that feels like it’s gently warping reality. It’s not quite a dance beat, but somehow you feel like you want to do just that. Sometimes the repetition of certain synth lines feels like it’s lulling you into a delightful trance, or that their sound simply has a kind of wooly quality, as if you’re hearing it from the inside of a duvet cocoon.
‘Hush Down‘, ‘Double Talk’ and ‘Deeper Shadows‘ were all given treatment as singles and it’s easy to see why – though of course everyone will have their own favourite track on the album, they are good landmarks on this strange voyage Jaakko is taking us on. ‘Hush Down’ showcases the album’s recurring disco feeling with a deep, bassy groove; ‘Deeper Shadows’ is the album’s most energetic cut, and ‘Double Talk’ gives you a great introduction to the dreamy quality we mentioned previously.
Elsewhere on the record we find tracks that sound like post-punk got on the wrong bus and went back to hang out with disco (‘Night At The Field’), earnest guitar solos (‘Mind Like Muscle’), lounge-y Gallic charm (‘Don’t Ask Me Why’), all with an overriding sense of being unhurried. Though from Jaakko’s sleepy expression on the cover you might be fooled into thinking this largely downtempo album is laid-back, there’s still an underlying tension to keep you engaged. This isn’t an album of slacker pop, but pop is the driving force throughout, and that’s no bad thing. The compelling pop sensibility found throughout is what holds it all together, and keeps you coming back to it.
What Jaakko Eino Kalevi does so brilliantly is that it explicitly takes you into another realm of consciousness entirely. Weird World may be the label that has released this album, but that also feels like the space where it might be found in the wild. This weird, wonderful world where Master Of Slowjams is a real job. One that it seems inconceivable could be better performed by anyone other than Jaakko Eino Kalevi.
Words: Dani Charlton
Also in this series:
Iceland: Björk – Vulnicura
Denmark: Mew – + –
Norway: Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl