XL: Surreal (2002)
A refreshing musical breeze has blown in from the north, characterized by strong melodies, subtle electronica, and unashamed love for grandiose themes and arrangements. Finland's XL has been developing for 10 years and on their latest release Surreal they make an intrepid statement. In a musical era obsessed with introspective abstraction, XL prefers exuberance and clarity. XL creates bold 21st century fusion, carrying on the broad-minded tradition established by 70s fusion giant Weather Report.
Like Weather report, XL composes with one ear to pop sensibility and the other to the endless possibilities of today's sonic palette. "Oktober" kicks off with pulsating bass and insistent drumming reminiscent of early U2. Then comes a delicious piano hook, to which guitarist Jarmo Saari adds a wash of distorted chords. But XL does not beat the hook into monotony, instead Arttu Takalo develops its melodic and coloring possibilities in extended piano passages and on midivibes. "Sir Real" and "Surreal" overwhelm like two movements of a symphony compressed into a total of four minutes. The pieces combine sampled spoken word, shifting time-signatures, rapid-fire drum'n'bass fills, and stacatto strings as a foundation for the colorful fugue-like arrangement of the orchestra. XL layers these forms so skillfully they make this clashing of styles seem perfectly natural.
Saari and Takalo compose and/or arrange every piece on the album. In XL and on last year's "A Tribute to Finnish Cinema" Saari displays a fresh voice and attention to detail. He draws from a myriad of musical sources-fusion, rock, movie scores-and his playing contributes to the whole of his compositions, never dominating. "Toledo" utilizes a skittering electronic beat and solid low end to anchor a wistful melody line stated by the XL orchestra and midivibes. Eventually the build-up gives way to a frenzied rock anthem, replete with pounding drums, howling guitar and a wailing police siren. Yet Saari and the rest of the band is not tempted into indulgent soloing; they stay in the framework of the composition, knowing their discipline communicates their intent.
Cutting through "Toledo's" wall of sound is a voice which implores: "People, we must learn to open our hearts." Herein lies XL's intent. They strive to make majestic, positive music and they succeed with earnest sentiment. One does not detect pretension in their work, simply a desire to inspire and elevate people through music. Refreshing indeed.
Track Listing: 1.PlimPlomLePetitBonBon 2.Sir Real 3.Surreal 4.Hitta nagon att tycka om 5.Evil spirit 6.The dark lord 7.Oktober 8.Elohopeaa 9.Avanto 10.PlimPlom II 11.Toledo 12.YouAndTheStarsAndTheMusic
Personnel: Arttu Takalo-midivibes,sampler,sequencer Jarmo Saari-guitar,vocoder,theremin,sampler Tuore Koski-bass,bass pedal Tomi Salesuvo-drums,sampler DJ Bunel-treatments,voice The XL Orchestra: I violin-Maija Linkola,Pekka Kuusisto,Manna Lahti II violin-Erikka Maalismaa,kaisa Laurila, Anna-Leena Haikola viola-Marjut Kortehisto,Heidi Toivonen cello-Paivi Ahonen,Eeva-Maria Nurmi double bass-Mikko Kujanpaa clarinet-Patrik Stenstrom french horns-Mika Paajanen,Sam Parkkonen harps-Johanna Nousiainen(11),Kari Vehmanen PlimPlom voice-Alexandra Grimal
Record Label: Pohjola Records
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock