I have to admit that I was blissfully unaware of the whole existence of crusty punk folk before coming across the Finnish trio, SLACK BIRD. It is quite a peculiar up-and-coming band that seems to vigorously crusade in favor of punky eccentricism with out-of-the-ordinary weapons of choice such as banjos, accordions, mouth harps, and deeply eccentric Finnish lyrics. On March 19th, 2021, the band released their third studio outing, “Hämärään,” via their own label, Harava Records and on the first few spins, the album’s feel-good, trickster attitude easily lures the unsuspecting listener to shuffle his feet to the pumped-up bluegrass rhythms. On top of the lyrics, there is also something else utterly Finnish about the album; SLACK BIRD channels the same free spirit as the great Finnish forefathers of artsy, leftfield rock such as Ismo Alanko, Tuomari Nurmio, and YUP. At the same time sounding tradition-savvy and unique, the band’s code of conduct is to deliver a sort of desert rock with Nordic folk instruments. The concept and execution is so brilliant that it is no wonder SLACK BIRD has already toured in nine different countries in the wake of their 2018 album, “Aleta Au.” The new album touches on topics of both mundane and extraordinary nature, ranging from the art of “mooning” to acid freaks and the ultimate hedonism of overeating party snacks. Unsurprisingly, the music complies perfectly to the lyrics throughout the album, drawing on the most unlikely influences in the framework of folk. With the release of “Hämärään,” the band gears up on their road to world domination by delivering a pristine selection of eight new banjo bangers.
The album starts with a banjo hymn titled “Koitetaan Pysyä Hengissä,” in which the band’s vocalist, Dave Klas, chants in a style strongly reminiscent of Jarkko Martikainen of YUP. On occasion, his somewhat raw, outlawish take on folk also triggers flashbacks of the acoustic 2012 J.Karjalainen album, “Lännen-Jukka.” The dialogue of the accordion and the banjo weave a droning tapestry of sounds, punctuated by the electric bass around the 2½ minute mark. This threesome does not approach the banjo as a cool hipster instrument as if it was 2007 again; no, these alternative folk darlings play it like they mean it. The music tastes like freedom, real danger, and sin. I would guess there are not that many songs about the most mundane things in life such as binging on lemonade and chips with a dipping sauce, typically, the fundamental snacks for an evening of Netflix & chill. Well, the album track, “Limut, Sipsit, Dipit,” talks exactly about that – about the ultimate chill of the hedonistic overindulgence in sugar and transfatty acids. On the other hand, the song title could be just another reference to LSD… with SLACK BIRD you cannot really tell. On this track, the desert rock vibes are nuanced with bluesy harmonica licks and, probably due to the vocal mannerism, I cannot avoid strong flashbacks (sic) of those epochal Ismo Alanko albums from the 1990s. The chorus gets a bit annoying after a while but on the other hand, the lyrics make you intrigued to ponder whether the song is really about psychedelics or not.
The next album track, “Samassa Piirissä,” helps shaking off the potentially miasmic state induced by the sugar high. In terms of mood, the song opens up a whole different universe, resonating with the aura of the Finnish “city-humppa” outfit, ELOKUU, which enjoyed short-lived fame in the early 2010s. So it becomes apparent that there is more to SLACK BIRD than mere psychedelic desert folk. The band appears to be like some sort of a gatekeeper of a brand new world of sonic miracles and confusion, reluctant to submit themselves for the rules of the more established folk subgenres. This crazy bunch marches to a different drum beat, maybe to the phantom beat of the universe itself. I am still kind of puzzled by the subtle drug references on the album: could it be so that this peculiar threesome took the term ”acid folk” way too literally? The closing track, “Kerrospunkkaselli,” is a 9-minute stoner-folk epic portraying a free-associative small-talk session with a manic acid-freak, covering topics such as love, the comedy of life, masochism, and the concept of time. Under these circumstances, I am obliged to entertain the thought that the album is a transit zone to The Far Side, the Gary Larson comic.
Then again, the band masters the acoustic pub-romanticism of SIR ELWOODIN HILJAISET VÄRIT and the anarchistic joie de vivre of the “Softwood Music”-era SIELUN VELJET way too brilliantly to be just another band of mindless drug hoovers. On the video single, “Pyllytä Peto,” the band takes off on a zany tangent, celebrating the Finnish folklore art of “mooning” – that is, driving the wild beasts of the woods away by exposing your arse or fanny. In a way, SLACK BIRD channels the spirit of the crown jewel of Finnish folk music, VÄRTTINÄ, most splendidly on this particular track. The music video bears a jovial resemblance to the video of MASTODON‘s whopping 2014 song, “The Motherload.”
After a few spins, the matter of fact quite obviously is that SLACK BIRD‘s strange third album, “Hämärään,” belongs to the realms of the magical, the inexplicable. The music exists in the same space and time as you or me but it opens the doors of perception into a world that is utterly unlike yours or mine – and it certainly adds to the album’s appeal.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Koitetaan Pysyä Hengissä
- Limut, Sipsit, Dipit
- Samassa Piirissä
- Pyllytä Peto
Dave Klas – Vocals
Susanna Leppänen – Accordion
Mirja – Sello