Release date: 28 October 2022 Label: Svart Records
Finnish improv experimental group Pohjonen Alanko is named after its vocalists Kimmo Pohjonen and Ismo Alanko. Together, the two work with the assistance of electronics and sound engineer Tuomas Norvio. Pohjonen has a successful solo career recording experimental accordion music and has also composed several film scores. Alanko also has a successful solo career, playing in the collective Ismo Alanko Säätiö, where he and Pohjonen played together. Norvio, meanwhile, has assisted in projects that featured both Pohjonen and Alanko while also advancing his own solo career. Combined, this trio makes a Finnish improvisatory powerhouse of vocal experimentation.
Though its three members have all been doing their own projects for far longer, Pohjonen Alanko first hit the scene in 2014. The trio’s debut was not through an album but live performances in Hämeenlinna, Tampere, and Helsinki from 2014 through 2016. After several years of successful tours, the group released the vinyl-only Northern Lowland EP in 2018. Now, with another tour in the works, Pohjonen Alanko have released their first full-length album, Voice of Northern Lowland.
The album opens with Kainuu, a relatively empty piece held up with grinding, buzzing, and low vocal calls that sound both traditional and futuristic. Next, Vihane screams to life with Pohjonen’s oddly tuned accordion belting out over discordant vocals. Over time, the electronic cacophony finds its rhythm, Pohjonen and Alanko’s vocals bridging the gap between man and machine. Hara hara quiets things down again, Norvio’s masterful work mixing with the natural deep rumble of the vocals.
Blaring through the speakers, Baashaa is fun and bouncy, with vocals that run between high-pitched screaming and deep growls. This is where the real experimentation begins to set in, this track sounding like a Viking circus playing electronic dulcimers. Karjalala is slow and low, long vocal notes reverbing gently and being slightly pitched up and down over fuzzy and non-committed electronics. Halfway through, the speed and intensity of the electronics eggs on the vocals to a strange, meaningful crescendo.
Halfway through, Tantere plays a series of indiscernible sounds that could have as easily come from a person’s mouth as an animal’s or even a machine. This soon falls away to musical chanting, low shrieks, and electronics with a mushy bass before suddenly stopping entirely. After this, Roku dance is an interesting diversion, opening with vocals that sound like Mongolian chanting atop a yowling cat. About a minute in, the track becomes an almost a capella rock ballad, making this track both unique and fun.
Compared to other tracks, Ramsoo is disarmingly calm. The combination of electronics, organ, and traditional vocals makes for an interesting and entirely pleasant sound that verges on religious. The final and longest track on the album is Northern Lowland, a slow-to-start melody of oddly beautiful warbling chants. Even disregarding the name, this track feels like a culmination of everything Pohjonen Alanko have set out to do, and it makes a statement.
A Final Word
Strange, off-putting, yet very fun, Pohjonen Alanko take random sounds and vocals and slap them together to make something beautiful. Although their sound is improvisational, everything sounds as though it was done with purpose, each distorted beat adding meaning. Even a person with little imagination may find themselves transported to a different world when listening to this trio’s music, attempting to make sense of something so new and bold. Fans of other ambient electronic projects, such as Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada, are well advised to take a listen. Those with an interest in electronica with a more cultural slant, such as Susumu Hirasawa or Röyksopp, may even fall in love. But whatever you’re into, there’s no reason not to give it a try and expand your horizons.
- Kimmo Pohjonen (he/him) – Vocals, accordion, electronics
- Ismo Alanko (he/him) – Vocals, guitar, violin
- Tuomas Norvio (he/him) – Electronics
- Hara hara
- Roku dance
- Northern Lowland