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Islaja - Meritie

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Artist: Islaja

Album: Meritie

Label: Fonal

Review date: Jul. 27, 2004

Isjala's Meritie, her debut on Fonal Records, is just part of the explosion of grass roots music in Finland the last few years. Isjala wrote, played and recorded most Meritie’s 13 songs by herself.

Isjala combines gestures from various genres, but in an off-hand, almost careless way, like a roughshod Joni Mitchell. Isjala twists, bends and often breaks her forms, struggling to lace the psychedelic folk and the avant garde of the present with the remnants of childhood piano lessons. “Kukkia” begins with jaunty, if somewhat skewed, finger-picking and an aching falsetto harmony, eerily evoking Simon & Garfunkel’s pseudo-psychedelic Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme.

The album begins in disorienting fashion. The delicate guitar plucking and bleary voice on “Kritallipallosilmät” strain for common ground. The next two two pieces feel just as unsettled. “Kenen maa” only hints at melody, as accordion and voice labor to converge. The multitracked voices on the Finnish traditional “Emoa ikävä” act like puzzle pieces, the jigsaw never to be finished.

But on “Kämen, kynsi, kieli,” Isjala’s willful dissonance and minimal arrangements fully emerge. An ominous ostinato in the guitar’s bass register is colored by a xylophone, jew's harp and scraping violin. Suddenly Isjala’s perverse melodic concept makes sense, the ragged beauty of her songs rising to the forefront.

Other pieces, more ambitious in scope and texture, elevate Meritie above being just an edgy free-folk record. “Haikea, kirkas” pairs a lilting piano line to the shrill metallic cry of a bowed saw. “Sata naakkaa sitten” edges toward the rickety art songs of Black Rider Tom Waits. Isjala plays a swaying two-beat pulse on harpsichord while incanting a spooky melody about shape-shifting birds. The song’s anthropomorphic image of forms mutating with dream-like fluidity aptly captures the singer’s own slippery musical forms.

“Vimeisellä rannalla”, the album’s most stunning piece, showcases all of Isjala’s strengths. A stark poem bobs above drifting harmonica, accordion, organ and singing whales. Spoken more than sung, the backdrop a fractured kaleidiscope of instrumental colors.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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