The new album by Islaja aka Merja Kokkonen on Gudrun Gut’s Monika label marks a radical transition for the former folk musician into a solo artist who skillfully arranges lyrics, melodies and imagery into a much more electronic style than she has been known for in the past.
The album is called S U U, which is Finnish for “mouth,” and Islaja’s bold vocal style and lyrical content will make you want to tune in to what’s coming from her S U U. Islaja has been part of the contemporary music scene for several years, already producing wonderfully-arranged surreal pop tracks in her solo work, as on 2010’s Keraaminen Pää (FR 072CD/LP) as well as in collaboration with other musicians as on the Hertta Lussu Ässä project in 2011, or recently as a contributor to AGF’s Kuuntele compilation in 2013.
In total, she has previously had four full-length albums on Finnish label Fonal plus one on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! Records. Still, so far it has mainly been insiders of the underground music scene that have been familiar with her work. Her music is strongly associated with the D.I.Y. scene, and so represents a prime example of a female musician who has developed a singular musical and aesthetic expression.
Somehow Islaja fits in with these new modern female acts such as Anika, Nite Jewel and Yula – even if their styles are all quite distinct. Now with her fifth album appearing on Gudrun Gut’s Monika Enterprise, the latest activities of Berlin-based Finnish pop musician Islaja have shown a surprising change in style and sound. S U U was coproduced and mixed by fellow Berlin resident Heidi Mortenson.
The record’s development is firmly rooted in the city. The songs on S U U are so full of surprises, one doesn’t really know what to expect next, so her current metamorphosis falls right in line with Islaja’s nature. While mystical aspects were mainly expressed in older work through lyrics with strong links to Finnish mythology, they now appear on the compositional level and in vocals driving the beats into forward-moving tracks ever permeated with a sensation of the unreal.
The low-pitched voice is somewhat reminiscent of Nico, and the presence of synthesized sounds also evokes references to ’80s new wave and pop. Nevertheless Islaja’s work is by no means retro; rather, it creates a unique and unusual atmosphere. Her sound is as intriguing and humorous as it is original.
And now what, should I quit playing? This is what Adele Nigro, now 21 years old, puzzled over an year ago, trying to deal with a past that just went off with her old band and with a future still to be written. But Adele doesn’t quit, and this is how Any Other is born, together with Erica Lonardi and Marco Giudici, with an indie rock attitude that will bring you to the 90’s of Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, but also to contemporary songwriters like Waxahatchee.
In their debut album, “Silently. Quietly. Going Away” (out on Bello Records, 2015), you will find stories about growing up, difficult separations, and a strong desire for taking revenge on the bad things that happen in our lives.
Islaja + Any Other
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 | 19:00 CET
Schokoladen | Ackerstr. 169 | 10115 Berlin/Mitte