Do you know the feeling you’re listening to music and it manages to take you someplace else when you close your eyes? To fields of green or magical snowy landscapes? Johanna Kurkela has managed to sway me away to far off places on several occasions already – I got acquainted with her voice through Tuomas Holopainen‘s solo project, “Music Inspired by The Life and Times of Scrooge” and, of course, in AURI‘s self-titled debut. Now, the singer teamed up with her namesake, Johanna Iivanainen, in ALTAMULLAN ROAD. The self-titled album is released through Ranka Kustannus on 11 September 2020.
The album starts off with the duo’s first single, “When it’s Time.” The song begins with a strong intro led by a combination of wind chimes and a melancholic violin melody. The otherworldly atmosphere enters new levels when the dual vocals of Kurkela and Iivanainen hit the listener. The beautiful harmonies of the vocals are the driving motors of the song, while the soundscape is fairly minimalistic with pounding tribal drums and strings to strengthen the dynamics. Simple, yet beautiful. The dreamy and at the same time folky atmosphere is often intense and definitely shows how these two vocals blend as one while touching your soul deeply.
Proof that ALTAMULLAN ROAD‘s music often finds beauty in simplicity is shown in “Hearts of Old.” A simple and soft piano melody guides the two harmonizing voices, creating a beautiful atmosphere that chills one to the bone. “Song of the Lark” has a more folky approach with a great rhythmic section and minimalistic piano melodies, creating a tense atmosphere. I can’t help but often feel as if the Johannas were greatly inspired by Celtic music, rather than being inspired by Nordic folk music. Again proof of that is seen in “Underwater,” which could have been part of a darker version of Michael Flatley‘s “Lord of the Dance.”
“Art of Losing” is a lovely, tranquil track with a melancholic undertone, meaningful lyrics, and once again vocal harmonies to die for. Being able to relate to the meaning of the song, the music and words feel very cathartic to people who have been through loss. That the music is mostly driven by deeper meaning is also clear in the next track, “Interstellar Friends,” a song that Iivanainen wrote after watching the movie “Interstellar.” It’s about the kind of friendship that you know you can always count on, even if you are no longer in touch for a while. We all have a friend like that, right? The song is a little bit poppier and has smooth, almost jazzy bass tones, which make it an intriguing blend of music. Driven by acoustic guitars, “Candle in the Dark” continues in the same line; minimal, but creating beautiful soundscapes with vocals. It’s proof of how musicians don’t need a lot to create a heartwarming track that makes you feel something.
So far, the album has been balancing more towards the melancholic side of music, so nearing the end, ALTAMULLAN ROAD came up with “The Merry Scallywag” which is a mostly instrumental track that is the folkiest out of all, especially when towards the end a violin is introduced that feels mostly inspired by sea shanties. The track flows nicely into “They Should Have Sent A Poet,” a dreamy pop song, inspired by new wave and ’80s music, showcasing the immense diversity on this album. These tracks are a lot lighter than the rest of the album but don’t feel out of place; in fact, it’s actually inspiring that the duo wanted to end the album on a more positive note as the album concludes with a more hopeful piano tune, “Dawn.”
Trying to write a proper conclusion for this album has rendered me a bit speechless. There are so many things to talk about, yet I feel as if anything I’d write wouldn’t do justice to the beauty of the self-titled debut these two singers have composed. First of all, I can’t help but think of Kurkela and Iivanainen as if they are the female versions of Simon & Garfunkel, as their voices blend so beautifully together that it almost feels like they’re one. At the same time, these women are storytellers and their voices have an effect similar to what Nick Cave‘s voice does whenever he sings one of his songs. People who enjoy poppy and dreamy folk music with a lot of soul will definitely enjoy this album. Altogether, ALTAMULLAN ROAD‘s debut is a sign that you don’t need to work with a lot to create a magical atmosphere in your songs; sometimes a piano, a violin, and two beautiful voices harmonizing is enough to produce one of the most enchanting albums of 2020.
1. When it’s time
2. Hearts of Old
3. Song of the Lark
5. Art of Losing
6. Interstellar Friends
7. Candle in the Dark
8. The Merry Scallywag
9. They Should’ve Sent a Poet