Hannu: Hintergarten

With a plenitude of surface noise and static making it sound at times likes it's been stitched together from a dusty collection of worn-out vinyl albums, Hintergarten transcends the electronica genre by dipping its toes into serenading amalgams of hip-hop and post-rock (“Lautasaari,” with its plaintive electric guitar shadings), haunting ambient set-pieces (the title track, “Vaissi”), and other unexpected realms. The album (enhanced by production and instrumental assistance from ex-Slowdive drummer and Kesh overseer Simon Scott) is an assured and accomplished follow-up to Helsinki, Finland-based Hannu Karajalainen's 2007 debut, Worms in my Piano. Hintergarten isn't, however, a mere patchwork of samples but rather a fusion of found sounds, organic instruments, and electronic textures.

Each piece brings with it one surprise or another, whether it's the instrument sounds themselves or the integration of different genres which he executes with convincing and apparent ease. Amidst atmospheric gloom, crackle-drenched string melodies wildly careen down dark alleyways in the cinematic opener “Pop,” the tune's disparate elements cohering into something oddly sweet and acerbic at the same time. Pairing the twang of tremolo guitars with a slow-motion shuffle gives “Kaipaus” a drifting, Old West character that's suggestive of something Ennio Morricone might have contributed to a Sergio Leone movie (a piercing whistling motif strengthens the association). The wintry quality of the album's title comes through in “Kimallus” where the wheeze of an accordion or harmonium warms the cold glisten of glockenspiel patterning. “Theme For Grant” invites comparison to Four Tet not just for its shuffling beat swing but for the rather Asian-sounding string instruments that melodically arc over the lulling groove. That exotic character is reinforced by the tranquil subsequent piece, “Valtameri,” which sounds like an early morning gamelan practice session. In fact, the Four Tet comparison can be extended to the album as a whole in one sense, specifically the open-mindedness with which Hannu approaches the material's construction. Other producers could take a lesson from him in one other regard, too, given that the svelte, forty-six-minute Hintergarten feels like just the right amount.

June 2009