Agitated Atmosphere: Islaja – Keraaminen Pää

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Islaja.

Finnish label Fonal continues to languish in obscurity—a horror that has yet to be rectified by an eager music buying public that has displayed less fear in the words and musics of non-English music (Dungen, Sigur Ros, etc.). Buoyed by a catalog of pop, rock, folk, psych, and electronic releases, those who have latched onto the teet of Fonal have been privy to some of the world’s best music.

Paramount to the success (as small as it has been) of Fonal is Merja Kokkonen, AKA Islaja. Every lofty representation given to her blend of electro-acid-folk compositions has been levied (Björk, Nico, Patti Smith) but they do little justice to Kokkonen’s style bending. American shores are mesmerized by the pomp and tabloid fodder, neglect true talent such as Merja Kokkonen. Whether she could be a star outside of Finland is anyone’s guess but her fearlessness—a quality the media purports to treasure—proves limitless.

Listen to “Otakun Uhkaus”:

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Kokkonen’s free spirit continues unchecked on her fifth album (her fourth for Fonal), Keraaminen Pää. Seamlessly combining myriad influences into well crafted pieces of art is Kokkonen’s forte; Keraaminen Pää standing as her most cohesive example to date. The music is vivid and lively as Kokkonen carefully spreads her dark lyrics across the melodic canvas. Keraaminen Pää balances these two forces effortlessly. Kokkonen’s lyrics delve into root feelings (anguish, loss, despair, loneliness) with unrelenting openness. Much of the album is Kokkonen’s search for meaning—for light—in a world blanketed in doubt. At Keraaminen Pää’s conclusion, there is no joy in Kokkonen’s voice, though her psychedelic touches deliver the light for which she has desperately searched. This is the power of Islaja: the ability to combine sorrow and perseverance in the face of a planet speeding off its axis. There IS hope where none should be and through her looking glass, Kokkonen gives us a brief (albeit obscured) glimpse.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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