CD review: Transkaakko – Kulo

Posted on September 13, 2009 by

transkaakko_kulo_bTranskaako means ‘south-east’ in Finnish, the direction on the compass the band followed to reach the destination of its original musical influences: the Balkans and the Middle-East. However, prog-rock and psychedelia are the dominant sounds on Kulo, an album of tight but often cumbersome folk-rock.

Based in Turku, near Helsinki, Transkaakko is an experienced ensemble with roots that go back to the ’80s. Kulo is the first release on the band’s own label Aarnihauta (‘Buried Treasure’) and it is an energetic affair with fast-paced guitar riffs, violin melodies and Daniela Fogelholm’s strong voice, which has the right growl for the spunk of Transkaakko’s music but sometimes struggles in the higher registers. As ever, it is a pleasure to hear rock music sung in the local language rather than in cod-English, but it is a shame the band does not produce a coherent sound with which to give the vocals a firm base.

The central issue here is that Kulo is its difficulty to pin down musically. There are glimpses of of funky melodic writing and some interesting passages of ensemble playing but it often fails to lead anywhere. The clearest sign of the ‘south-east’ reference comes from the extraordinary oboe playing of Jaakko Isojunno whose shrill, reedy style of playing evokes the instrument’s North African cousin, the shawm, throughout.

However, combining Isojunno’s blasts of sound with loose skinned percussion and heavy-handed guitars gives parts of Kulo a faux-medieval air, not necessarily a problem, but awkward when mixed with the band’s prog-rock tendencies. The guitar and violin riff on ‘Tür’, for example, is straight out of the mid-1970s while songs like ‘Huoli ja Ikävä’ are prolonged beyond their natural limits. There are still some nice touches on the record though. The chanting on ‘Kunhan Tästä Selviydyn’ is eerily effective while the wonky march of ‘Hudminen on Tulevaisuudessa Parempi’ has real bite. Unfortantely there just isn’t enough spark or underlying character to make this an interesting listen.

Posted in: World/Folk