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V/A - Psychedelic Phinland: Finnish Hippie & Underground Music 1967-1974

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Artist: V/A

Album: Psychedelic Phinland: Finnish Hippie & Underground Music 1967-1974

Label: Love

Review date: Mar. 15, 2007

Finland made its own pace getting through a civil war and liberation from the Bolsheviks, discovering its modern, Western identity in its own largely Lutheran way. By the time the ‘60s were tearing through the rest of the world, their attendant social revolutions met Finnish culture a bit late, a bit stilted, but clearly on the country’s own terms.

Psychedelic Phinland attempts to tell this story through music in a narrative sequence that first condemns and makes light of the hippie lifestyle, through folk and other pre-rock means. It’s not long until the direction of the material changes dramatically, first to noisy rock, then blues, then beatnik-esque outfits, and on to groundbreaking electronic and avant-garde forms that carry on into the country’s present music scene (Paavi, Circle, and others share many traits with the artists featured here). Evidently, drugs, outrageous public expression and the embrace of sundry other taboos didn’t account for as significant a part of their cultural makeup as they might have in the rest of the world – blame the country’s location, aquatic boundaries, or perhaps a willingness to maybe just let things slide up through 1968, almost as a caution to see if this whole social revolution thing would blow over. But given some of the results collected here, it’s obvious that the wheels came off of that notion with enough force to blow a few tons of fish out of the waters. Thus, the transition from the derisive skiffle of Jorma Ikävalko’s “Hippie Ball at Nutsville” to Blues Section’s Gothic psych-jazz menace “Cherry Cup-Cake Twist,” both released in the same year, was as jarring in history as it is in the re-enactment.

That type of sequencing is one of the collection’s strongest points, and what moves it away from latter-day “psychsploitation” – this is no Love, Peace & Poetry with some cheesecake broad in a bikini gracing the cover, but rather a serious and thorough look at the evolution of music in one place due in part to changes in the rest of the world, how those changes were felt, and what the artists did to make them their own. Starting unassumingly enough with the aforementioned selections, disc one attempts to document the popular half of the underground, via rock, folk, Eurovision entries and beatnik propaganda, while disc two is dedicated to avant-folk, experimental and electronic pieces that are almost impossible to fathom in the time frame. Most records profiled were pressed and sold in the low hundreds, and never made it out of the country to begin with.

One such record, the 7” single by Sweden’s Baby Grandmothers (only released in Finland), serves as a landmark for that country’s earnestness to push past the barricades and compete with the world theater. And yet it’s the dramatic heft of their lone recording that signifies further cracks in the façade, as neighboring lands encroached on the general levels of sanity in the Finnish underground. Soon enough, Eero Koivisioinen’s “Pienta Pelia Urbaanissa Limousinessa” demolishes the sanctity of quiet, stern pop notions completely, with a strobing, day-glo freakbeat monster of a track, the singer’s screams at points blowing out the entire recording. Similarly, the Little Red Book and the Big Red Menace next door shroud many of the proceedings with Commie sympathy and, at the same time, a suspension of disbelief that such theories may ever work; one look at the band Apollo, buck naked save for some body paint and juggling electric jug style percussion by a long pimp stroll of a rocker (“Ajatuksia”), highlights the inventiveness and futility of the scene at once. Soon after, three selections from Suomen Talvisota 1939-40 (Finland’s answer to the Fugs) throw serious intentions out like months-old lutefisk, rollicking in films and plays with a ridiculousness the rest of the world wouldn’t embrace until glam came into being.

Disc two is the real surprise here, starting with pre-pube folk ensemble Those Lovely Hula Hands’ most innocent-sounding material. With as much musical skill as the Shaggs, the group repeats a few simple musical phrases, some spoken word action, bird calls and lion roars into dazzling tracks of plain music with an inner glow brighter than the sun. It connected with me right away (as if I’d never heard music like their ghost-child banterings up until this point), and it’ll likely do the same with you. Moving quickly into abstract tape collages and proto-synth structures by the Sperm, Pekka Airaksinen, and Sähkökvartetti, the freedom of experimentation, and the subsequent paincave their intense foundations mandate, imprison the artists’ material with strict tension and mind-flushing results.

By now, many of us have been overloaded with reissues of trippy records that never sold, modern acts owing more than a small debt to the material on said releases and, worse, an altogether revisionist aesthetic that lumps these concepts into one’s personal vision. Psychedelic Phinland cuts a valley in other collections of its kind. Using a geographical boundary and having immeasurable access to that land’s deep government sound archive allowed its makers to paint with an unusually wide brush, but if you’re not coming into this for cheap thrills, Phinland also succeeds with panoramic and neck-tingling vigor.

By Doug Mosurock

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