REVIEW: Akkajee – Lastenkerääjä

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“Akka” is a slightly derogatory Finnish word used to describe a headstrong woman, typically an older woman with a decisive attitude and a sharp tongue. In Sámi and Finnish mythology, Akka is also “The Old Woman of the Dead” and the goddess of fertility. All these different connotations are condensed on the sophomore album, ”Lastenkerääjä,” released independently on April 18th, 2021, by the headstrong rascals of the Finnish folk music scene, AKKAJEE. Exploring the mindscape of a child through music, the album has a thematic concept that reflects childhood fears, memories, and magical beliefs in capricious and whimsical ways – almost as though giving musical form to a child’s imagination racing into the unknown.

The title track, “Lastenkerääjä,” does the honors of setting the somewhat sinister and peculiar mood for the album. The lyrics are based on a nursery rhyme, depicting a story about the old codger collecting naughty children in his sack to drown them in the bottom of a lake. The song does not approach the subject by resorting to the graphic violence of the Brothers Grimm like the Finnish oddballs YUP did with their take on the theme on their 1991 track ”Paha Vaatturi.” Nevertheless, AKKAJEE manages to create a substantially more unsettling atmosphere, what with the whispered vocals and the minimalist arrangement that punctuates the dramatic peaks of the story rather poignantly. Considering the dark humor in the lyrics, I reckon it cannot be a coincidence that the nursery rhyme is spiced with a reference to the male bird, capercaillie, since “Ukkometso” also happens to be the widely known affectionate moniker attributed to the Finnish rock legend, Pate Mustajärvi.

Next time a friend of yours claims to listen to practically anything, you can easily verify whether this claim has any ring of truth to it by putting on the track, “Yönitkettäjä.” It is a nightmarish sound collage of transcendental string noise, random vocal chants, and something that sounds like CAPTAIN BEEFHEART performing his idiosyncratic grunting in the background. In terms of lyrics, the song is about the wicked spirits believed to have been keeping infants awake at night. It kind of makes sense to drive the point home with such a heavy dose of musique concréte and atonal suspense in the spirit of Scott Walker. You do not need to understand the few lyrics to get the feeling that something evil is about to happen.

The track, “Orpopojan valssi,” is a rather traditional piece of Northern Gothic in terms of folk music – a thoroughly melancholic account of an orphaned boy in 1930s Finland, based on an actual person, according to the press release. The song serves as a breather before the album takes off on a wild tangent into folk realms that very few have traversed before. The duo introduces the track ”Hys hys hymylään” with the words, “welcome to the trip of your life!” So, I take it that these folk darlings are very well aware that it is one of the stand-out tracks on the album. Featuring excerpts from several short rhymes and ancient poems of the Finnish people, the song is a sort of travelogue about Hymylä, a mysterious land of unsolved riddles. The journey there begins with a giddy etno-folk stomp reminiscent of the pedigree Finnish folk outfit, VÄRTTINÄ. Pretty soon the song transforms into something completely different though. A short and haunting multi-layered vocal break leads into an instrumental 4-minute outro that channels the slacker indie aesthetics of the mid-1990s SONIC YOUTH but with nyckelharpas and violas!

Another pinnacle track on the album is the one titled “Äidin itku.” The lyrics stem from the 1930s Ingrian laments and musically the song is more akin to the mystical, classical minimalism of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt rather than folk. Of course, AKKAJEE channels something similar to Pärt‘s tintinnabuli style with a rascally and raw edge incorporated in the song’s spine-chilling contrapuntal layers of vocals and violas. Hence, I cannot help but entertain the thought that this folk duo could easily drop a genuine future classic simply by going fully mental into this particular direction and dip their alternative folk deeper in the style of, say, Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt to whatever extent the duo format would enable.

The album closer, ”Syntymä,” features excerpts from several traditional childbirth spells and incorporates all the elements of the typical exit music for a movie. The intensity grows gradually with the slow-paced layering of new elements until the song reaches its climax – and comes to an end. In a way, the song could replace the typical Michael Nyman track on any Peter Greenaway film soundtrack so that no one might even notice. The song brings closure to the grimly shaded album perfectly by painting a picture of a young mother giving birth with the help of the Holy Mary and a bit of ritualistic magic.

One thing is for certain: this album is definitely not for everyone. It is brimming with raw emotion and punk attitude when it comes to folk music – or music at large. It demands the full attention of the listener and by doing so, it might not be the most suitable pastime for the Internet generations with attention deficit disorder. For those with the acquired taste for music that explores the uncharted sonic terrains with a distinct no-holds-barred attitude, AKKAJEE‘s new musical potion that had been simmering for 7 years will undoubtedly prove most rewarding. At first, it might sound as quirky as the 19th-century concoction to relieve labor-pains that was made by infusing coffee or booze with horse sweat. However, on repeated spins, the beauty of the album will unfold and immerse you – about that horse sweat tincture I wouldn’t be so sure.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Lastenkerääjä
       
  2. Yönitkettäjä
       
  3. Orpopojan valssi   
       
  4. Hys hys hymylään
       
  5. Äidin itku
       
  6. Syntymä

Lineup

Iida Savolainen – viola, vocals, stomp box

Meriheini Luoto – nyckelharpa, vocals

Label

Independent

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