The Best of 2008 #4: Paavoharju’s Laulu Laakson Kukista

Usually the album that tops my year-end list is not actually the album that I listened to the most in that calendar year. Call it lame, or self-centered, or just downright stupid, but I always feel the need to use the modest powers of my best-of list picks to celebrate something “artistically important,” or an album that really moved me even if I only actually listened to it twice. This year, as I was endlessly combing through all kinds of iTunes metadata, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find Paavoharju not only on my shortlist of best albums, but also at the top of my play counts. This is an album that I respect the hell out of and also cannot stop listening to; that’s why it’s perched here, as the official Mission Creek #4, but as my #1 album of the year.

And look, I’m aware of the pretension factor here—but I promise I’m not simply encouraging you to listen to a Finnish music collective to make myself look cool. In fact, as some Iowa City music fans and concertgoers might argue, this isn’t even the best Finnish album this year (that honor would go to Lau Nau). It is, however, the best album I’ve heard in a long time to so cohesively incorporate radically different musical practices into a complete and compelling whole. I don’t mean “styles” or “influences” (many mediocre bands do a great job aping their favorite records), I mean “practices”: field recording, noise, drone, dance pop, acoustic balladry, classical. Yet, no individual song can be shoehorned into any of these categories. Even the retro club hit that never was and never will be, “Kevätrumpu,” feels like it is set in an field below a glacier, not a European nightclub (the opening frog chorus helps to this effect). The synths are ramped up, the female vocals are set to sultry, and then: “Tuoksu Tarttuu Meihin,” a piano, violin, and found sound piece as ethereal as the previous song is corporeal.

In a record full of these kinds of surprises, perhaps the most surprising is that Paavoharju also have a knack for hooks. Take “Tyttö Tanssii” (available for download below), which is essentially a 60s folk ballad drenched in atmospheric sound. In a way that is decidedly refreshing from so many records brimming over with interesting sounds (and there are a lot these days), Paavoharju reward you with something you can outright hum—which is certainly why it is able to cross the false divide between importance and listenability that I set up for albums. Really, this is an album about challenging boundaries, and as such, it is an overwhelming success.

Download: Paavoharju - Tyttö Tanssii

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