VA - Think About Music - Musik von Harmönia 2006-2014 [Svart Records - 2019]Here we have a fascinating and beautiful niche oddity, a various artists compilation of tracks from Harmönia , a Finnish electronic music label. In case that isn't specific enough, this double album is apparently an ode to an obscure subgenre of funky dance music called 'Skwee'. Curiously, this compilation is not actually released by
Harmönia itself, but Svart Records, a label which seeks to resurrect historic electronic releases of Finland.
Imagine my surprise when the first tune, despite being Finnish, sounds somewhere between vintage 80's boombox hiphop and classic raw Chicago house music circa 1990, even including hammy rapping and spoken vocals. As it turns out, most of the songs do not have any vocals, but the vintage house/electro feel persists.
At first, the electronics found here are extraordinarily simple and lo-fi, at times with that 'wonky' 8 bit feeling to the synths and percussion. Most tracks are little more than a rigid percussion loop and one or two synth lines that last the 4 minute duration of the song. As it is incredibly rudimentary, the musical value contained herein comes mostly from the patently bizarre delirious and sarcastic attitude permeating through these tunes, and from the sensual pleasure of analog sound textures. Later on in the album, however, variety increases with significant cleverness in the form of swinging, dissonant and counter-intuitive jazzy patterns.
I find it curious that this music could have been composed from 2006-2014, when it sounds like it came from twenty years before that. With the majority of these songs, there is no hint that a computer could have been used. Though Finnish electronic music production quality does to some extent lag behind other parts of the world (with many albums of Finnish 'suomisaundi' sounding rougher than other psytrance music), I have heard countless Finnish albums from 2006-2014 that make full use of digital production techniques and modern synthesizers. As such, the people composing this 'Skwee' sound could only have existed in some kind of isolated retro bubble by their own choosing. Indeed, one can find many such albums of short synth experiments from the early 80's, from the likes of Jean Michel Jarre, The Residents, Cluster, Asmus Tietchens and others. The fondness for this sound could be said to be a timeless phenomenon in light of its resurgence in the form of "vaporwave". This re-release will fit in well with the current nostalgia for this vintage equipment.
There are certainly many tracks that make the most out of limited means, such as the melodic electro/downtempo of SLA's "Hive Hibernation", with its Kraftwerk-esque purity and directness, pleasant analog saw wave textures and well composed melodies. PJVM's "Rhubarb Dream" is a groovy enough breakbeat, suitable for strolling down the ave, with just a touch of cheekiness. On disk two , we get into some satisfyingly kinetic broken warehouse patterns with an offbeat/triplet footwork feel (perhaps the only real sonic indication that this music is modern), and some hilariously brazen wonky electronic jazz with deeply strange tonal and rhythmic choices. The music has great infectiously upbeat absurd energy.
In the end, the diverse works of many artists cohere comfortably into a hazy basement downtempo record. Though the tracklist is not ordered entirely chronologically, it seems as if Svart Records saved many of the best pieces for later in the recording, placing some of the most raw at the beginning, and so patience is rewarded. By the time I'd heard the full double album, my opinion had skyrocketed from my initial impressions.
This release functions perfectly as a document of an otherwise unknown music scene from history. I must give it a perfect rating for the thoroughness of Svart's presentation, the variety of songs chosen and the care taken in presenting the history through the liner notes, which makes the whole thing so much more vivid. Those who can get over the clumsiness of the production and sequencing will find moments that generate the same kind of pleasant domestic energy as early 90's Aphex Twin (and indeed, this music was being produced at the same time as his acid throwback 12" series, "Analord"). I find it worthwhile for its unique ability to make the listener laugh at its absurdity, as well. "It sounds like a singing worm", my daughter said.Josh Landry