Monday, September 9, 2013

private    Joonatan Elokuu
The Tower and The Hanged Man -digi- (FIN,rec.2012)****

It took me a while (a few months) before I was able to find the right time, setting and concentration to listen o this album in the right setting and listen to it in one concentrated take and review it, but that means that I also played it several times before and from all new releases by the artists I also preferred to come always back to this one, so this is surely the right one to pick out for review. It is only digital but surely deserves a physical release some day too. This is definitely for fans of In Gowan Ring and goes into the direction of “Glinting Spades,” even for one of its lyrics. 

The first track starts powerfully with a fragment that seems to be from a movie, where you can hear a woman evoking some kind of demon master, mixed with some Gregorian chants. This also reminds me of the very origins of existence of the dark context in which Gregorian music appeared. Gregorian chant was not the first group singing but was in fact a reducing of the spirits and qualities of the individual voices. Just remember how nowadays you still have beautiful folk choirs in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, where each separate voice remains to have a meaning. Here all was reduced to listen to one voice alone, almost like a form of black magic or let’s say, deliberately caused white magic for the sake of a so called higher and also more controllable purpose (remember that no image of a god is created without the image of a demon to compensate for what since its restricted choices can no longer be said). This mixture was the introduction of a sad picking song (already in the In Gowan Ring-alike style), a song about invasions and conflicts from Gizah to Gazah (something that became very appropriate and again a very up to date situation again). A situation is forced into the direction of one voice alone, where all the other opinions are demonized. This returns to fragments of Gregorian singing in male and female voices, while most of the song shows textured organ and hand shakers, a bit of melodium and mostly guitar picking. It is a brilliant starter, which I preferred to take out for a bit more comments.

The second track continues similarly in style of singing, also shows warm analogue synths, besides strummed and picked guitar. This is followed by a softened in harshness whiskey-blues guitar song, “Cod'ine” which was originally written by Buffy Sainte-Marie.  From most songs I really do not grab its content well yet, despite that the lyrics are in English. They come over like poetic expressions adapted into the music. Most of the tracks have acoustic rhythms and a bit of bass and textures on keyboards, sometimes with very beautiful analogue synth sounds. One track also shows cello. “Somehow I'd Still Miss You” goes a bit in the direction of early Leonard Cohen, with a sort of dark story of romance. “Been Smokin' Too Long” (originally from Hank Williams) I think comes from or is interpreted in the direction of how Nick Drake would sing a blues song. “Gypsy Suzanna” is a waltz with acoustic guitar, sparse drumming and cello. A very good album, which despite being so good, still had to grow on me a bit.

Joonatan: “It was written in Amsterdam, and I guess there's a definite "Amsterdam" feeling there somewhere to be heard. Actually now that I think of it, some songs like Gypsy Susana were written in East Europe around 2010, but were modified accordingly to fit the theme of the album. The theme...well, that's the hard part. In some part (a great part of it actually) is about women, and the other part is travelling and maybe misfortune, and afterwards rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the previous life. The album was to be called Flowers for Lilith at some point, and I think there's something about a "female devil" as well, and drugs and all that jazz. Sleazy decadence somewhere there, mingling with Zen things and an inherent "Christian" guilt (I am a strict atheist with Zen leanings but well, we grow up in a world based on Christian morality so here we go...) and I think I was reading/listening Leonard Cohen a lot during the time I recorded the songs. I think "Book of Longing" had a huge impact on the songs. There is also the interaction between the Tarot cards The Tower & The Hanged Man”. It basically explains the theme of the album. Bad things have to happen for you to be able to shed your skin and ascend... I think most of it was born out of my travelling experiences in the East... kind of dark gypsy curse in folk form. Weird shit. Don't know exactly why, but I'm really happy about how the songs turned out, and a great deal of it is just one take with guitar and vocals and then some overdubs. I was living all over Holland during that time so there's some homelessness in there too...

I think the most important songs here are "The Tower" (sets the theme basically), "Rain Falls Hard (reprise)" it's about the same thing which was introduced in the previous song of the same name on "Mushroom Heart" and then there is maybe "21122012" (I don't get that song myself, but the meaning is buried somewhere there...)

“Flowers for Lilith” is written for my wife Helena, with whom we gaze at the Tibetan moon. "The emptiness we felt since we were born" - the sense of not belonging to any physical location nor to any culture nor place nor a group of people. "The hanged man" is also written for her, but the things there actually did not happen. I just felt I needed to write a song like this when we lived by the harbour roundabout in A'dam North...I used to go to stare at the IJ at small hours (UFO Sighting over the IJ).

As you can see, it's a bit scattered but there's a grand unity there somewhere. I am really happy with the work, though it's just a simple collection of raw songs...”

The being forced by situations (“The Hanged Man”), being recognisable also in occurring events (“The Tower”), just like In Gowan Ring in “Glinting Spades” was clear enough, while also a relationship that could not survive after one did in the poorest moments (in the Cohenesque associations). Here an escapism appears as tendencies from the environment (the drug culture in Amsterdam). It still is a force of purity of inspiration which is strongest in a poor situation (-as if pure is connected with poor-), something which led the mind take course and action good enough to arise back like a phoenix and where one grew out bigger, better and matured. The words of inspiration, of life, -Zen.

PS. According to Joonatan, the album can be regarded as a companion album to a previous release,
the EP "Earth, Sky, Moon and Sun" (2011).