2012 Artists' Picks

The Alvaret Ensemble
The Boats
Enduser / The Teknoist
Alejandro Franov
Christoph Funabashi
The Inventors Of Aircraft
Kostis Kilymis
Lau Nau
Madera Wind Quintet
Todd Matthews
Lubomyr Melnyk
The Outside Agency
Pleq + Philippe Lamy
Roach & Metcalf
Martin Schulte
Jay Shepheard
Tape Loop Orchestra

Compilations / Mixes
Darkroom Dubs Vol.3
Petre Inspirescu
Pop Ambient 2013
v-p v-f is v-n

EPs / Cassettes / Singles
Bee Mask
Fluorescent Heights
William Ryan Fritch
Junction 12
Lind and Loraine
Alessan Main
Show Me The Future
10 Yrs 45 Vol. 10
Wolf Cub

Lau Nau: Valohiukkanen
Fonal Records

A good representation of Fonal's distinctive sound is Laura Naukkarinen's third Lau Nau full-length Valohiukkanen. Recorded in 2011 on Kemiö Island, in Turku, Tampere, and Stockholm, the Finnish artist's ten-song follow-up to 2008's Nukkuu offers a rich assortment of ballads, uptempo numbers, and experiments, with Naukkarinen's own vocal and instrumental contributions enhanced by Pekko Käppi on jouhikko (a traditional, two- or three-stringed bowed lyre, whose strings are traditionally horsehair), Jaakko Tolvi on drums, Antti Tolvi on bass and alto clarinet, Kristian Holmgren on guitar, synths, and percussion, and Matti Bye on grand piano and celesta. That she sings in her native Finnish (“Paperthin” the exception) might seem a hurdle initially but proves to be of little consequence when the feeling of the music communicates so directly.

The opening song “Valolle” (For the Light) immediately bewitches the receptive listener with the lilt and swoop of Naukkarinen's gossamer voice and the rustic cry of the jouhikko. During “Ystäväni Nosferatu” (My Friend, Nosferatu), she flirts with the darker side of her muse, and the effect is haunting, especially when the song's sepulchral tone is enhanced by the jouhikko; haunting, too, is “Mirjam,” a memorable piano-and-wordless vignette. The delicate mood is killed, briefly, by the uptempo “Kuoleman tappajan kuolema” (The Death of the Killer of the Death), whose breathless, organ-driven rambunction feels out of character with the overall mood of the album; thankfully, Valohiukkanen returns to form with the wintry balladry of “Hämärän hevoset” (The Horses of Darkness). The album would suffer from one-dimensionality had it featured only ballads, however, so Naukkarinen was wise to mix it up, even if it's the delicate material that leaves the stronger impression. Songs like “Valloittajan laulu” (Conqueror's Song) and “Juokse sinä humma” (Run, My Horsey, Run) (a suitably galloping cover of a Tapio Rautavaara composition) instantiate the album's more aggressive side.

It's not a perfect album, certainly. It ends limply with an instrumental setting that's hardly the equal of the album's better songs and “Kuoleman tappajan kuolema” would have been better left out. However, there are enough entrancing moments, many of them centering on Naukkarinen's vocal delivery, Käppi's jouhikko playing, and, in general, the songs' richly textured arrangements, to make the album earn its recommendation.

February 2013