Finland’s Circle has been playing swirling, repetitive psychedelia in Europe for well over a decade, but Raunio, released on the excellent Squealer label, ought to be Circle’s highest-profile U.S. release since 1993’s Crawatt EP. And now seems like an opportune time for Circle to break out in the States (at least in indie terms), since the ears of underground rock fans are as open as they’ve ever been to bands like Acid Mothers Temple and Sigur Rós, who American rock fans probably enjoy as much for their mysterious Otherness as their music. It’s not that indie kids like either band for the wrong reasons, really, or that the bands don’t deserve the attention (though I don’t have much time for Sigur Rós, personally). Expansive, cinematic, edge-of-the-world rock just goes down easier when it’s performed by a rotating cast of wild-haired Japanese hippies or a helium-voiced Icelandic man who sings in a made-up language. The two bands’ music shoots for a wide-open sort of mystique, and their respective images reinforce it.
Circle is similar to both bands, but for very different reasons. Circle’s use of noise isn’t far from Acid Mothers Temple’s, and the two bands share an obvious love of metal and krautrock. In fact, the influence of Neu! and Can is even more pronounced in Circle’s sound than it is in AMT’s: at least half of Raunio features snappy, motorik beats.
The most obvious similarity between Circle and Sigur Rós, meanwhile, is that both groups sing in made-up languages. And in Circle’s quieter moments, which feature minor-key chord progressions and plinking Fender Rhodes-like keyboards, Sigur Rós-style preciousness starts to creep in. But that’s quickly nixed by the vocals themselves, which sound like nothing you’ve ever heard, unless you remember Caustic Resin’s Brett Netson – Mika Rättö’s gruff vibrato is both aggressive and otherworldly.
Unlike a lot of albums, by, say, Acid Mothers Temple (New Geocentric World Of, for example), Raunio feels like one grand gesture—the transitions between tracks aren’t jarring. The album’s seamless feel has a lot to do with its editing, which is a double-edged sword. Raunio was recorded live, then manipulated in a studio—which seems like a good idea, especially for a band that gets so much mileage from repetition and noise, but the sound quality isn’t great, and sometimes Rättö’s vocals and even the drums get lost in the tacked-on waves of distortion.
While I’m sure there are better sounding Circle recordings out there, though, Raunio is probably the easiest to find, and it’s still an awfully good record. Raunio could be a huge hit with fans of Can and Acid Mothers Temple – time will tell if the hype surrounding such hypnotic-mysterious acts as AMT and Sigur Rós will stretch far enough to get Circle the attention they deserve.
By Charlie Wilmoth