Monday, January 4, 2010

Heathen Harvest Review

This CD-R, limited to 100 copies marks the debut work of solo folk artist Joonatan Elokuu, a man of Finnish origin shrouded in mystery. This CD-R documents the travels of this bard and poet into the British Isles, into India, and in social isolation in his native Finland. Apparently every song was recorded at different times in different locations, sometimes accompanied by his wife Helena, who occasionally accompanies him in his live performances.

This marks also the first release on his own family-run label Kiiltomatolyhty. Quite a nice website they have there, dedicated mostly to his own work. Hopefully it will grow in time with his own exposure and growth as an artist.

The music we are presented with is a relatively pure ode to British folk music, to nature, and to the nomad who wanders. The songs are kept very straightforward and in effect rely on strength of song and heartfelt melody to convey their individual beauty. There is a bit of neofolk-ish experimentation with extra synths and ambient/atmospheric effects that crop up here and there, mainly in the opening and closing tracks. However, most of the songs are kept pure, relying solidly on strength of song and emotion to carry them through, composed mostly on instruments such as acoustic guitar and accordion.

The vocal work of Joonatan is remarkably beautiful and pure in it’s melancholy and passion. I would guess these songs were composed or performed only while Joonatan was at his most emotional or spiritually inspired highs and lows, and the way he uses his own voice as an atmospheric instrument to visually convey these songs is moving indeed. At this album’s deepest moments, one is moved to tears and feels the same pain one would feel stranded and abandoned as a wanderer in a foreign land, without roots, without companionship, with only your music as company, and only music to tell your tale as a traveler lost.

We start off with some sweet a capella provided by Joonatan and his wife, as a traditional English folk song unfolds, telling the tale of a lonely Finnish immigrant, far from home and forced into captivity, with former riches now reduced to mere essentials of survival. As the song progresses into more environmental ambience, the song is followed by a mournful Eastern-reminiscent dirge on acoustic instruments, giving one the feel of wandering a desert, with no hint of an answer in sight. This next song is quite a jarring transition from the lonely to the wistful and sweet, and is definitely a tear-jerker for romantics. The heartbreaking melody and lyrics are most definitely suitable for a rainy afternoon, with a glass of wine, losing oneself in memory. If one has ever wandered the streets of an old English city in autumn, I also suggest they do so while listening to this song in their discman. Next, we go into a sad acoustic ballad sung in Finnish, with the sounds of a nearby river and night sounds of creatures stirring. This is a song to play around a fire at night, as the night slowly comes to life around you, and the ghosts of nature call you into their arms. Dark, passionate, full of native spirit.

The first well-known cover song comes next(if you don’t count the first song, based on a traditional folk song), this time of British 1960s folk rock artist Donovan, who could definitely be cited as an influence here. In fact, this whole release contains just a bit of Donovan’s wistful musings on the world today. That pure, natural feeling is definitely here in strength. From here, we go one more step into blues and country territory, though still not quite into rock territory as of yet, as Joonatan’s singing takes on more of a western swagger, and the acoustic strumming comes back with more vigor than before, playing out almost American-inspired melodies.

The next song ventures back into fragile ambience and natural beauty, as that ever-calming sound of water makes its return back into the soundscape of ringing chords to fill out this rather Dead Can Dance-inspired composition, fading back into a heartbreaking beautiful folk tune lulling us to tear-filled sleep. The next song is a more earthy folk song, reminiscent of a hermit singing an ode to his forest abode, beckoning the lone weary traveler to join him for awhile, and drink to the beauty of solitude. We go back into sad beauty for a bit, joined by a mournful harmonica, flute, and watery sounds for a final Finnish ballad before finally being taken into the high point of this album.

The conclusion is well worth the wait, a dark extended rendition of “Solomon’s Song” by British folk rock artist C.O.B. Quite a different take on Clive Palmer’s classic, extended into some more lonely singing in Finnish, for a deeply ambient lonely outro and ode to the loneliness and solitude as life reaches it’s final chapter, and as an old man you finally return to the womb of nature which spawned you. This is a song I often play and listen to while walking through the forest at night and lose myself in the beauty around me, as the beauty of this song is seriously overwhelming, and the sheer sadness of the artist’s tired voice almost makes you want to be lost yourself, to the infinite splendor of earth.

This is a definite recommendation for fans of pagan folk music, neofolk, psychedelic folk, or just plain good songwriting, and definitely music to play alone while out in the elements. Beautiful atmospheric music for the romantic hippie in us all. I would still like to see these songs developed further and more refined for a future release, but if this is any indication, I think we can expect great things from this artist.

link to review: