|Tartu Popi Ja Roki Instituut|
It’s not that rare for an album to come along out of the blue which is as good – better – than most that turn up. Imandra Lake’s Seesamseesam (issued in 2010, discussed here) was one of those, although it took a little while to sink in.
More recently, it was joined by the equally fabulous Tartu Popi Ja Roki Instituut’s Biidermeier-psühhedeelia, one of the best albums of this year.
Beyond both being Estonian and sung in Estonian, they’re linked by being on the SekSound label. Each is a superb album, by any measure. What’s rare is for the unanticipated to share pretty much the same source (it ought not to by now, but Estonia still surprises). Which is what sets SekSound apart and why the label needs to be written about.
SekSound obviously has a particular aesthetic seen in its complementary, but not unified, graphic style and the music it puts out – broadly, a Stereolab/shoegazing/Belle and Sebastian conflation that’s never less than interesting and pretty often spectacular. At least, on the random sample of SekSound which has come my way.
Tartu Popi Ja Roki Instituut’s Biidermeier-psühhedeelia - I’ve already briefly looked at the album – is worth revisiting pretty much endlessly (Seesamseesam was/is too) as it’s so damn good. It’s produced very sensitively. The opening acoustic guitar is built from, but no element is buried or blurred. This warm, organic sound surrounds even when feedback guitar kicks in on opening cut Ilmast Hma. Strings and (what sounds like a) marimba mesh perfectly. Vocals have a close-miked haze. Instrumentally and arrangement-wise, the album is arresting.
More importantly, Biidermeier-psühhedeelia is about the tunes. All have a minor-key core but dart off to soar. There’s an element of If It Don't Work Out Zombies or Milton Nascimento, as well as a Free Design influence suggested after a first pass. Of course, I’ve no idea if that’s really being nodded at. The rock drive of the drums and guitar also lift the album, bringing a clean, sharp edge to this baroque pop. Whatever the touchstones, Tartu Popi Ja Roki Instituut are clearly identifiable as themselves, just as Imandra Lake are.
The same goes for SekSound itself. Estonia is a fairly small country with a correspondingly sized population, yet the label has issued at least 37 releases to date. The first was by Pia Fraus, in 2004. It must be Estonia’s most prolific independent label. Fourteen acts appear to have individual releases. There are three compilations. An awful lot of stuff. Of those with more than one release, the spread is fairly equal so it’s a fair guess SekSound is in for the long haul with who they have.
Beyond Imandra Lake and Tartu Popi Ja Roki Instituut, the other stuff that’s come along is also notable.
Lack of Eoins' Echo Group is the odd yet satisfying combination of Daydream Nation-ish guitars/structure and agitated, semi-chant vocals married to fractured melodies. That could be headache inducing, but instead it’s a super whole. Picnic’s Winter Honey is a more immediately assimilable shoegazing-derived mood-pop as good as, say, Tamaryn, but seemingly rooted in an unfamiliar melodic sensibility (there’s a – perhaps - folk lilt to a lot of the SekSound songwriting that brings another level of fascination). Pia Fraus’ Nature Heart Software (from 2007 – their first album? They’d recorded pre-SekSound) is more directly Loveless My Bloody Valentine, but with the density replaced by the unfamiliar approach to melody peculiar to all these bands. Also a treat is Dallas’ double CD Sleeper's Entertainer / Raj Kapoor, from 2011. Both discs were recorded between 1995 and 1998, so they must be long gone. If that’s the case, in SekSound-world they’re seminal.
As for SekSound, the enigma. When in Estonia, I’ve never come across any of their bands, never encountered anyone from the label. An e-mail wasn’t responded to. That’s fine and of course music can speak for itself. Hermetic makes sense. But with a label sticking stuff this good out the few words above are probably OK.
Also only on Kieron Tyler worlds of music:
- Fonal Records / Shogun Kunitoki
- Helmi Levyt - Finland’s Voice Of Love And Madness
- Imandra Lake: Seesamseesam
- Joensuu 1685 and Brad Laner on Splendour Records
- Mari Kalkun
- Röövel Ööbik: Young Godz Have Fun
- Susanne Sundfør: A Night At Salle Pleyel
- Susanne Sundfør: Spot Festival 2010 And The Brothel
- Susanne Sundfør: The Silicone Veil