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Go to the Vapaa website  Vapaa - s/t [267 Lattajjaa - 2003]

About two years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of the Finnish experimental scene. Crowded with artists who playfully explore colorful psychedelia, kraut-influenced rock and weird folk in particular, Finland has often been referred to as 'Europe's Japan'.

Personally I think that in this regard, Finland has as much in common with New Zealand as it has with Japan, but that's beside the point. There's a lot of stuff happening in Finland, has been for many years, but only recently the international community has started to pay attention. Obviously the 'new weird america' movement isn't enough to satiate the hipsters desire for 'out-there' folk and rock. Even Pitchfork has jumped on the bandwagon, although it is yet to be seen if the more mainstream-oriented magazines will keep up the good work or reduce their interest in the Finnish scene to the status of a short-lived fad. However this turns out though, I´m sure the Finnish scene will continue to flourish, be it on MTV or deeper underground.

Vapaa hails from Jyväskylä and consists of core members J. Koho, Joel Kivelä and Tiitus Petäjäniemi. This self-titled debut album was released in 2003 on 267 Lattajjaa as a limited cd-r. As far as I know, they haven´t returned to the sound of this album ever since. This is minimalist psy-folk with touches of ambient, not at all like the free jazz of Iluei Äntil (2004) or the electronic experiments of Tilat (2004).

The first track Viljapelto immediatly sets the mood for the album. Pleasant stuff that has a calming effect on the listener, like you´re slowly drifting off into unconsciousness. Much like Jani Hirvonen´s work as Uton, the music of Vapaa seems to be almost otherworldly in nature. It is highly atmospheric and somewhat alien-sounding, yet there is a strong connection with nature. The basis of Vapaa´s sound on this album is definitely rooted in folk (lots of primitive flutes), though presented more in an ambient fashion.

Throughout the four tracks that make up this disc, they experiment with different types of vibrations and textures. Sarastus builds up a lot of tension through the use of dark and mysterious sounds (there´s even some raygun sounds reminiscent of Italian spacelords My Cat is an Alien), and the gloomy Maakuoppa features strange vocals that create an unsettling atmosphere.

Listening to this hypnotizing album, it is not hard to understand why Vapaa are one of the current cornerstones of the Finish underground. As is the case with many of their fellow countrymen and contemporaries, it is a shame that their material is practically impossible to find in record stores. Perhaps the renowed Last Visible Dog label will one day bless Vapaa with their thoughtful three-disc reissue treatment? It would be only justice.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Patrick Toepoel
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