Keuhkot, the Finnish musician Kalevi Rainio, can probably not be fully understood by listening to Laskeutumisalusastia, or for that matter, any of his other albums. His songs, in inscrutable Finnish, natter on in impassioned, staccato dissonance, meshes of looped rhythm and synthesizer punctuated by sharp stabbing guitar chords. Google translator makes only the most elusive sense of the lyrics, chanted in a monotone, continually, without audible line breaks, unearthing stray phrases about the natural world, consumerism, political and social mores. There is a rabid, jittery, visionary propulsiveness to the whole enterprise that recalls Beefheart, early Pere Ubu and The Ex, but what it means, what it aims at, what it’s meant to convey? A mystery.
Video of Keuhkot performing clarifies things somewhat. One shows a wire-y bearded eccentric, rigged out in a home-made headlamp and mic apparatus that resembles a junkyard halo. A film plays in the background of a sort of warehouse space as Rainio punches at floor pedals, slashes at guitar strings, barks out unreadable phrases. “Finance-ay corpse-ay,” he singsongs darkly, undecipherably, against an angsty clatter of guitar, a detuned keyboard stagger of a circus march. The sense of menace is palpable, but what exactly is the danger? Gutteral whispers thread through the scrambling, rushing, densely off-center “Siirtokunta” (“Colony”), an intricate chaos of funk and punk and noise.
Keuhkot’s part of the Ektro website (again decoded from Finnish, badly, by Google Translator) seems to suggest that process takes priority over end, that Laskeutumisalusastia is the act, rather than the result, of deconstructing and recontextualizing. The name Keuhkot means “lungs,” a metaphor perhaps for a natural process that transforms what goes in (oxygen) into what comes out (carbon dioxide). “If the result is different from the original composition or concept, it has succeeded - the work is finished,” writes Rainio. “If the result is different from the original composition or a concept, but sounds bad, then the work is started.”
Recording on CD, obviously, stops the process in mid-phrase, halting Rainio’s exploration exactly where it hit tape and turning what may have been an ongoing dialogue with sound into a definitive statement. Yet, even repeated plays suggest how fluid these compositions could be, how easily they could have spasmed off into entirely other directions. Finnish speakers may get more of the argument (Rainio helpfully includes a lyric sheet, in Finnish, with the album art), but anyone can hear how forcefully and eccentrically Keuhkot interrogates his source material, how willfully he shapes it to his own ends.