Critics have applied the term "folk" so liberally to so much modern music that its meaning has been dimmed. Musically, it often describes music based on simple scales, cyclical melodies and ragged, dancing rhythms. Culturally, it describes a tradition, or interpretation of one, specific to an area or people. If this is so, are not most forms of popular music "folk" music? Rock and jazz use cyclical, memorable melodies combined with improvisation to create music that expresses the ideas of an individual, or group of individuals. This more flexible, open-minded folk music is what the Finnish ensemble Kiila makes.
Group member Niko-Matti Ahti describes the songs on Silmät Sulkaset as being primarily open-ended structures and thematic improvisation. The “traditional” feel of the music was purely intuitive, he says, which reveals that Kiila draws from many wells of inspiration. Ahti and Laura Naukkarinen both participate in the abstract all-acoustic improvisation of Päivänsäde, while Sami Sänpäkkilä, aside from his recording engineer career, makes organic electronica as Es. One hears Kiila’s diversity in its instrumentation and song structures. The ensemble combines electric guitar, hand percussion, bass, violin and wooden flutes, voice, melodica, accordion and electric keyboards with a traditional Finnish instrument, the kantele (a lap-held, strummed harp with the piercing metallic twang of mandolin). With this breadth of colors, Kiila creates a loose, hypnotic blend of songs and impressionistic instrumentals.
Kiila’s songs are accumulations of intricate mid-tempo riffs, and weary, almost ghostly vocal harmonies delivered as chants. A mesmerizing kantele phrase propels “Auringonlunta,” borne up by deliberate hand drums and decorated by a droning violin, sputtering flutes and an accordion. A quietly ominous guitar riff, gently throbbing bass and splashing ride cymbal drive “Kateet linnut.” Slide guitar, violin and accordion then swirl around the urgently hushed vocals. “Minä-laulu” distills Kiila’s songwriting to its elements, as only a lilting acoustic guitar ostinato accompanies the male-female vocal harmony. These songs rhythmic insistency and brittle tonal textures fuse in a tangled matrix of sadness, brooding and joy.
The instrumentals are no less complex, emotionally and musically. “Kiviä ja taivasta” is a delicate crescendo of shifting tones. First a flute flutters, then a melodica releases a swathe of sound, a warm electronic buzz slides in and out of the mix, and a snare rolls teasingly in and out of hearing. “Tapauiva aukesi vuori” unfolds as a violin-accordion dialogue, until cymbal, electric guitar, flute and a flickering electronic signal enter—a piercing moment, the pebble disturbing the placid pond.
Silmät Sulkaset reveals more with each listen. It speaks first with the humble, direct voice of popular and traditional song. Thereafter, it adds the subtlest of overtones, evoking a dense meeting of song craft, electronics, improvisation and acoustic chamber music. A true folk music of the 21st century, one intimately connected to its locality and infinitely ready to explore localities beyond.
Visit Kiila and Fonal Records on the web.
Track Listing: 1. Kelmej