In the frozen depths of the Synthy Nordic basin hides one of the greatest European music producers, turning out accomplished pieces of capable electronica, both for himself and as the part of various collaborations with JOHN FOXX, PROCESSORY and SIN COS TAN.
Finland’s finest Jori Hulkkonen released his first album ‘Selkäsaari Tracks’ in 1996.
However he first came to the world’s wider audience as ZYNTHERIUS with TIGA on their 2001 electro cover of ‘Sunglasses At Night’
The love of Detroit techno has always added a certain dose of magical rhythmic edge to his productions, although bred on the likes of JOHN FOXX, PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER’s synthesis, the man from Turku on the southwest coast of Finland, creates his very own discernible sound.
Keen to explore unusual possibilities of synthesis, the Finn assembled a group of nine like-minded buddies, where each of them operated a little acid box of crafts, otherwise known as the Roland TB-303, conducted and mixed by the man himself. The project called THE ACID SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA famously supported KRAFTWERK during their Finnish date in 2009.
To add to his interesting outings, Hulkkonen joined forces with his fellow Finn Jimi Tenor to showcase their silent movie ‘Nuntius’, which improvised soundtrack was presented to live audiences for a unique audio visual experience. But presently, the Finnish master returns with a brand new album, ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’, marking the release of his long player number twenty!
And indeed from the opening ‘Tintån Terdel’, with its pleasantly satisfying star gazing textures à la early PSB, offers floaty qualities of capable musicality, until the gratifyingly uncomplicated ‘New Ideologies’, Hulkkonen takes one onto a journey of the familiar unknown. The title track glides masterfully over the sedate instrumentation; soothingly enticing and teasing, while ‘I’m Just A Phase I’m Going Through’ introduces more powerful synth beats and the faster tempo.
‘We Will Tear Love Apart Again’ steadies the beat into a mantra, which hypnotises and mystifies, while ‘Lowlife Crises’ generates the nostalgia for the easy listening tracks from the best synth years. The arty, GAZELLE TWIN-like elements are introduced in ‘Reach Out To China’. The excellently synthesized noises capitulate to the simplistic melody, to be reintroduced towards the end of the track, creating an open-closed masterpiece of electronic pleasure.
‘I Think About Your Car When I Drive Mine’ shines with the use of assorted synth noises, only to progress into the inconspicuous ‘Sometimes You Win, But Not Very Often’.
The rhythms reminiscent of MOLOKO dazzle on ‘I Am The Night’ and ‘Moon Is Real’. With a more defined beat and creative use of instrumentation, Hulkkonen creates his very own take on bossa nova, Suomi style. They’re the two perfect dance tracks.
‘Water Wars 2021-2027’ brings the futuristic vision of sci-fi inspired things to come. Almost tribal, the ringing rhythms manage to anaesthetise and stupefy, meandering through the computerised textures and vivacious elements.
‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ is like being taken onto a journey into the depths of yourself, discovering the familiar unfamiliarities and being soothed by the powerful self, all at the same moment.
Opus number twenty marks the number of the gratifying achievements, all coming out from within. It’s sedate yet uplifting, grandiose yet simplistic, raw yet polished to perfection.
Jori Hulkkonen has reached the status of god and he deserves every inch of the success that comes his way. With the ergonomic musical design to suit all users, this record is simply superb.
JORI HULKKONEN is one of Europe’s most highly regarded electronic producers, yet remains something of a hidden secret.
While a fan of synthesized music such as PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER and JOHN FOXX, Hulkkonen’s love of Detroit techno and house music has brought a rhythmical edge to his many productions and remixes.
Hulkkonen released his first album ‘Selkäsaari Tracks’ in 1996, but he first came to the world’s wider attention as ZYNTHERIUS with TIGA on their 2001 electro cover of ‘Sunglasses At Night’.
As well as solo long players such as 2010’s acclaimed ‘Man From Earth’ and collaborative projects like KEBACID, STOP MODERNISTS, PROCESSORY, SIN COS TAN and THE TANIA & JORI CONTINENTS, he has DJ-ed around the world, presented his own radio shows and remixed artists as diverse as ROBYN, KID CUDI and JOE JACKSON.
Based in Turku on the southwest coast of Finland, Hulkkonen recently downsized the amount of hardware in his AlppIVhouz Studios, although he still retains a Korg PS3100, Emulator II, Roland Jupiter 4, Roland SH101, Roland TR808, Roland TB303, Siel Orchestra and the ubiquitous Eurorack Modular system.
Always up for the odd spot of artistic mischief, he assembled THE ACID SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, an experimental avant-garde techno ensemble of nine fellow conspirators each controlling a Roland TB-303, conducted and mixed by Hulkkonen; the collective famously supported KRAFTWERK on their Helsinki date in 2009.
More recently, Hulkkonen has teamed up with fellow Finn Jimi Tenor for a touring presentation of their silent art movie ‘Nuntius’. Starring Mr Normall as its central alien character, it features a live improvised soundtrack ranging from blippy ambient to frantic motorik; none of the music is to be released. So with each performance being unique, ‘Nuntius’ provides a cerebral audio / visual experience for who are able to witness it.
With such a varied catalogue of work and projects, The Electricity Club looks back at the career of JORI HULKKONEN in the shape of this eighteen track Beginner’s Guide, arranged in chronological order and with a restriction of one track per album / project…
TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS Sunglasses At Night (2001)
This cover of Corey Hart’s cult classic, adopted as a signature song by the Electroclash movement, came about when Hulkkonen was in Montreal promoting his ‘Helsinki Mix Sessions’ CD released on TIGA’s Turbo label. “The synthline just felt very cool to use with the 808 beat” he told The Electricity Club, “I’m glad I used a pseudonym for that release as even though I loved a lot of the music that was around and connected with Electroclash, the whole scene felt a bit distant to me.”
Available on the TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS single ‘Sunglasses At Night’ via City Rockers / International Deejay Gigolo Records
JORI HULKKONEN featuring JOHN FOXX Dislocated (2005)
“’Metamatic’ is one of my all-time favourite albums” said Hulkkonen, “and for me it was a fantastic opportunity to get a chance to work with one of the people who had shaped my musical world. ‘Dislocated’ was written by me, with John and the sound of ‘Metamatic’ in mind”. The end result sounded like what the title suggested and the pair worked together again in more collaborative manner in 2008 on ‘Never Been Here Before’; it wouldn’t be for the final time either…
Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘Dualizm’ via F Recordings
Work had actually begun on a TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS album, but the pair both felt that keeping the project as a one hit wonder was a much cooler alternative. However, several songs from those recording sessions ended up on their various solo albums, with ‘Dying In Beauty’ appearing on Hulkkonen’s ‘Dualizm’, while ‘High School’ with its hypnotic synth sequence and latent machine groove found a home on TIGA’s debut long player ‘Sexor’.
JORI HULKKONEN featuring JUSTINE ELECTRA Errare Machinale Est (2008)
2008 could be considered Hulkkonen’s Down Under phase and for the title track of his sixth solo record, he recruited Electra, a Melbourne-based singer / songwriter / musician / DJ to add her wispy nonchalant voice to this expansive mood piece with an extended ambient intro. The track utilised grainy Emulator II strings in an aesthetic that was to become one of his trademarks. The album also featured a tune fittingly titled ‘Forgive Me Father For I Have Synth’.
THE PRESETS This Boy’s In Love – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2008)
Australian duo Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes made their international breakthrough with ‘This Boy’s In Love’, an uptempo ASSOCIATES flavoured highlight from their second album ‘Apocalypso’. Hulkkonen stretched out the track out for almost ten minutes in a beat laden squelch fest and described it to The Electricity Club as: “a 10 out of 10 remix on my standards. It’s difficult to say why but somehow everything just clicked when I was making it and it still sounds fresh”.
Co-written with one-time KILLING JOKE bassist Martin Glover aka Youth, Hulkkonen’s remix adopted a deep framework and applied a pulsing club friendly vibe to the dark cool of Client A and Client B’s Cold War Chic, while “dancing on a ticking bomb”. Growing up in Finland during that era with The Bear next door looming would have had a profound effect on Hulkkonen in shaping his soundscapes.
Available on the CLIENT album ‘Command’ via Out Of Line
Like its predecessor, TIGA’s ‘Ciao’ was mostly co-produced by Belgian brothers SOULWAX, although James Murphy of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM gave a helping hand on another track originally intended for TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS. Hedonistic and sweaty like a clubby Marc Almond, TIGA however could never quite escape the DJ tag to establish himself a fully-fledged artist in his own right. Indeed, he once congratulated LADYTRON “for escaping Electroclash”.
JOHN FOXX & LOUIS GORDON Neuro Video – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2010)
‘Neuro Video’ came out of Foxx and Gordon’s ‘From Trash’ recording sessions and reflected Foxx’s known love of old science-fiction B-Movies which had influenced much of earlier solo work. For his remix, Hulkkonen stripped the track down and made it less percussively frantic, procuring a spacious groove for the bubbling electronics to work within. This remix and another of ‘Impossible’ were originally made available as a free download via Foxx’s Metamatic web platform.
Available on the JOHN FOXX & LOUIS GORDON album ‘Sideways’ via Metamatic Records
Hailing from East Helsinki, Juho Paalosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä’s superb debut album ‘Origin’ was co-produced by Hulkkonen. He told The Electricity Club at the time: “The guys had written a lot of songs in the previous couple of years, so someone outside their songwriting duo having a fresh pair of ears was crucial in picking a group of songs that would make a good album…They have a lot going on for them though; great songwriting, a very good debut album to build on and definitely not least, Juho’s magical voice”.
Available on the VILLA NAH album ‘Origin’ via Keys Of Life
“We were both going through on a very deep phase with THE SMITHS” said Hulkkonen of ‘Lo-Fiction’, his first collaboration with reclusive vocalist Jerry Valuri in 2005. With their ambitious joint project PROCESSORY, the aim was “to create its own little universe” with various space travel themed concepts. With a lo-fi anguished gothique, ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ concocted some very introspective moods at The Finland Station… however, nothing has been proved.
A cover of the lost NEW ORDER single from 1985, Hulkkonen remembered: “The idea was to take what me and STOP MODERNISTS partner Alex Nieminen felt was an underrated song, make a late 80s deep house interpretation and bring some extra twist with having Chris on the vocals. It’s very hard – impossible, actually – to explain how important this record is to me. PET SHOP BOYS have been the most important musical influence for me”.
Available on the STOP MODERNISTS single ‘Subculture’ via Keys Of Life
When VILLA NAH went on hiatus, Hulkkonen and Paalosmaa formed SIN COS TAN. Explaining the difference, Paalosmaa told The Electricity Club: ”With VILLA NAH, I’ve been solely responsible for the songwriting, so I knew that would be different with SIN COS TAN. With Jori, we both bring our ideas to the table”. Very nocturnal in tone, ‘Trust’ was a superb 21st Century answer to ‘Enjoy The Silence’, described by Hulkkonen as “Disco You Can Cry To”. Indeed, like that iconic tune, ‘Trust’ had been written as a ballad.
Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Sin Cos Tan’ via Solina Records
BILLY MACKENZIE Boltimoore – Original JiiHoo Bootmix (2012)
The magnificent voice of Billy Mackenzie from his stark cover of Randy Newman’s ‘Baltimore’ was flown into a hypnotic tech house bootleg constructed by Hulkkonen. With deliberate incorrect spelling of our hero’s name to mask its illegal nature, it was a haunting ghostly return from the heavens to the dancefloor. Mackenzie would have loved it and had he been alive today, he would have almost certainly been working with Hulkkonen; what magic that would have been…
Available on the 12” vinyl release ‘Boltimoore’ via Kojak Giant Sounds
Despite their collaborative history, Foxx and Hulkkonen had never worked together on a body of work with a conceptual theme, but the opportunity came with the appropriately titled ‘European Splendour’ EP. It took on the grainier downtempo template of PROCESSORY and the lead song ‘Evangeline’ was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.
SIN COS TAN featuring CASEY SPOONER Avant Garde (2013)
Hulkkonen first found fame during the Electroclash era and a noted personality from that scene made an appearance on the second SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’. ‘Avant Garde’ featured Casey Spooner who provided a suitably cynical snarl to contrast Paalosmaa’s lost boy cry on a track that sounded like THE CURE being produced by PET SHOP BOYS. Paalosmaa was particularly thrilled, saying “I’ve been a big FISCHERSPOONER fan since their debut in 2001, so it was a very cool honour”.
Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’ via Solina Records
A brilliant slice of uptempo electronic pop with more than just a hint of GIORGIO MORODER and NEW ORDER, ‘Italian Love Affair’ was Italo Disco laced with a soaring vocal and a fabulous neon lit groove. Despite having shied away from singing throughout the majority of his career, Hulkkonen took on vocals himself on this highlight from his ninth solo album, with the end result sounding not unlike a cross between Jerry Valuri and Juho Paalosmaa.
Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘Oh But I Am’ via My Favorite Robot Records
FEELS If You’d Meet Me Tonight – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2016)
FEELS are a Helsinki based indietronica band comprising of Sofi Meronen, Mikael Myrskog and Jooel Jons; when Hulkkonen saw them band play live in Turku, he became a fan and asked if he could work on their material. Speeded up considerably and pracatically changing the entire character of the song, his remix of ‘If You’d Meet Me Tonight’ was highly danceable, but still retained the trio’s glorious Nordic melancholy for some more of that “Disco You Can Cry To”.
VILLA NAH unexpectedly returned after six years and Hulkkonen was there to assist again as co-producer. Of the magnificent track with which they returned, Paalosmaa said: “‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process”. This was classic crystalline synthpop with a modern twist at its best, in a fine juxtaposition of swirling arpeggios and melodic tension.
Available on the VILLA NAH album ‘Ultima’ via Solina Records
Hulkkonen has released several EPs and singles over the last couple of years in the build-up to a new long player, while a new single ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ is set to be unleashed. A cinematic synth wave instrumental with a dripping percussive template, ‘Tintån Terdel’ signals a possible future in film work. It’s an avenue already being explored by himself and Jimi Tenor in a live context via the unique presentations of their silent Sci-Fi movie ‘Nuntius’.
Finnish duo VILLA NAH have returned after a five year hiatus.
With their recently released second album ‘Ultima’, Juho Paalosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä have reminded the general public as to why they wowed audiences who saw them open for OMD in 2010. However, despite the acclaim, the childhood friends faded from view after that tour.
During the break, Paalosmaa formed SIN COS TAN with ‘Origin’ co-producer Jori Hulkkonen and excellent songs such as ‘Trust’, ‘Calendar’, ‘Avant Garde’, ‘Moonstruck’ and ‘Love Sees No Colour’ filled the void left by VILLA NAH.
While their debut album ‘Origin’ was prime crystalline synthpop, ‘Ultima’ undoubtedly comes over as a more varied and mature musical statement. There are fewer club friendly tempos but this has been offset by a comparatively sunny disposition on songs like ‘Love Chance’ and ‘Life Is Short’, as well as an abundance of dreamier atmospheres like on the beautiful grown-up lullaby ‘Proxima’.
Despite their new found optimism, VILLA NAH’s inherent melancholy remains while their technical prowess is as sharp as ever. Juho Paalosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä chatted about the genesis of ‘Ultima’ and its influences, both musical and technical.
How does it feel to have recorded together again after a gap of 5-6 years?
Juho: Feels good! We had met on numerous occasions over the years, but became active again in our studio in 2015 when the majority of ‘Ultima’ was recorded. It helps a lot that we’ve been friends since kids, as there’s always that connection. Five or six years can feel like a long time for many, but after a 30 year long friendship, it’s not that bad.
What was the impetus to renew the partnership?
Juho: A number of reasons. We never really buried the idea of recording again – it was always likely to happen. It just had to feel spontaneous, natural. I think it also helped that no-one was really expecting us to release anything anymore. Working under the radar made things fun again, it gave us a free creative space with no rush to anything. On a more personal level, there are also some songs on this record that had haunted me for a very long time; songs like ‘Mistakes’ and ‘Heaven’. I simply needed to get them out, and they played a big part in forming what would become the overall feel of ‘Ultima’.
Jori Hulkkonen is again involved on the production side. But he is also involved in SIN COS TAN… so for the uninitiated, how would you explain the musical and compositional differences of VILLA NAH?
Juho: For the uninitiated, I’d describe the differences of VILLA NAH and SIN COS TAN with one word: atmosphere. VILLA NAH has more of a romantic, softer, at times naivistic quality to it. SIN COS TAN on the other hand is colder, more cynical, and the songs have a harder, more modern edge to them.
As far as songwriting process goes, in SIN COS TAN, me and Jori write songs either collaboratively, separately, or just jam them out together in the studio. So the songwriting is pretty much a 50/50 job in SIN COS TAN, but Jori stays in charge of production and especially mixing. I usually just lie on the couch at that point and complain about the lack of reverb…
With VILLA NAH, the songwriting is fully my responsibility, while Tomi handles the engineering and often the percussive side of things. A key difference between ‘Ultima’ and our debut ‘Origin’ was the mixing. This time Tomi had all the mixing duties, which gave ‘Ultima’ a very distinct, warm sound. I think it sounds lovely.
‘Ultima’ sees a more atmospheric, filmic side to VILLA NAH compared perhaps to ‘Origin’ with?
Juho: Well, I find that ‘filmic’ sensibilities have always been present in our music, it’s pretty much inescapable. I’m a big cinephile and think of melodies in very visual terms, usually even describing them as scenes in an imaginary film or a play. But with ‘Ultima’, I specifically wanted to make my own interpretation of a dream-pop record.
Dreams have been a constant inspiration with VILLA NAH, the worlds they inhabit and how they’re fuelled by our memories and experiences. So yeah, that certain atmosphere was very important to get across on ‘Ultima’. And I’m happy if it did.
The dance influenced rhythms that were a characteristic of ‘Origin’ are less prominent on this album, is that just a part of getting older?
Juho: There’s a few reasons for it. First off, I had worked on several records with Jori in SIN COS TAN where there were a lot of dance tracks. In fact, our latest EP ‘Smile. Tomorrow Will be Worse’ was comprised only of more club orientated stuff. Also, some earlier songs I had done as demos for VILLA NAH – tracks like ‘Trust’ and ‘Limbo’ – went to SIN COS TAN, as they felt more in tune with what we were doing with Jori at that time.
So when it came to ‘Ultima’, I wanted to explore a softer and calmer atmosphere. Getting older certainly plays a part in it too, but also the world we inhabit: things feel pretty insane in 2016 in a lot of ways… and I personally like the idea of having a relatively gentle, unabrasive pop record in the middle of it. It’s almost like a quiet manifest against all the glowstick parties and warmongering out there.
‘Stranger’ was a perfect song to return with. How did that emerge and what is it about?
Juho: I was heavily into JOHN MAUS when we made that, I think we both were. The off-kilter vibe of his music was definitely an influence – even though the end result sounds nothing like him. ‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process. I don’t think it’s a track I would’ve written as a 20 year old. It requires some years of age and experience to really understand how time can change people, including yourself.
What’s the story behind the composition of ‘Spy’ and the ‘Spy vs. Spy’ computer game?
Juho: Bit of a long story this one… when we were little kids, me and Tomi had a mutual bond with the characters of ‘Spy vs. Spy’. Tomi subscribed to a comic magazine called ‘MAD’ which featured the amazing cold war influenced cartoons of Antonio Prohías called ‘Spy vs. Spy’. And I had a Commodore 64 computer at home with a game called ‘Spy vs. Spy’ – based on the very same cartoon by Prohías.
This game had a 20 second loop of music which played throughout nonstop. You’d think it’d be infuriating to listen to, but instead it was just really hypnotic. So hypnotic that it stayed in my brain ever since. Fast forward to 2008, and I wrote a VN track based around the game’s lead melody.
In the process of picking out tracks for our debut ‘Origin’, ‘Spy’ was one contender. I don’t remember why it didn’t get picked, but I do recall Jori loving it… so on ‘Ultima’, we really didn’t want to leave it out again.
Before we could proceed, however, we needed to track down Mr. Nicholas Scarim, the man behind the theme music’s ingenious composition.
Soon enough, we found ourselves corresponding with Mr. Scarim. We humbly presented him our interpretation and were happy to hear that Nick really loved the track and gave us his approval!
The rhythm programming on ‘Mistakes’ is unusual in many respects for an electronic pop record, what was it inspired by?
Juho: ‘Mistakes’ was a track that had existed for many years, in various forms, most of them ringing in my head like an obsession. The rhythm track also changed a lot in the process – it was initially much more straightforward, too much so. Jori introduced the idea to make it more contemporary, which gave the song a more compelling twist.
Tomi: Got to give credit to Jori Hulkkonen for saving that song. It was one those songs that was completely lost in the endless swamp different versions and styles, so it definitely needed outside intervention to become finished.
‘Love Chance’ and ‘Life Is Short’ might remind some UK audiences of CHINA CRISIS. Is that a coincidence or do you have an appreciation for them?
Juho: True story… the first time I heard of CHINA CRISIS was from Andy McCluskey when we supported OMD back in 2010. Andy mentioned to me that our sound reminded him of CHINA CRISIS, and I was genuinely like “Wow, really?” (and simultaneously thought “Who? Gotta write that down!”). I didn’t know the band, so it must’ve been a happy coincidence…
Subsequently I did find the music of CHINA CRISIS later on. And fortunately liked what I heard. Some of their stuff had a similar vibe to things I adore, like the poppiest work of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and their solo efforts; chorus vocals sung in laid-back unison, where the emphasis being on the song’s instrumentation contra to the leading vocal melody. This is something I wanted to explore as well, with ‘Life Is Short’ and ‘Love Chance’ being precisely the songs on ‘Ultima’ where you can hear that. So yeah, I really don’t object to this comparison – even if really, it is more of a coincidence.
The album sees more prominent use of guitar, are there any particular guitarists or styles that influenced how the instrument would work for VILLA NAH?
Juho: Way before we started doing music with synths, we played with more traditional instruments. I still write music with either keys or a guitar. But I don’t regard myself as a proper guitarist by any means.
Guitars can help a song with its groove – in the stuff we make it’s not always necessary, but with the right song it can work nicely and give it another dimension.
Tomi: Guitar is actually an annoyingly difficult instrument to blend in properly with synths, the way you play guitar versus synths is so different, so guitar melodies clash easily with synth melodies in a bad way. Then again, it is a matter of skill, haha! I’d like to mention John Frusciante here, he’s been my favourite guitarist for a long time and in recent years, he has been going nuts with synths.
Have you changed any of your technological approaches with ‘Ultima’, like with hardware synths versus softsynths, vintage analogues versus modern ones?
Tomi: I have to admit that I’ve pretty much grown out of the analogue synth hype. Actually I’ve always just wanted instruments that sound good, the technology itself has not been the reason for example to buy analogue synth classics. They’re classics because players have found the good sounding, simple and straightforward instruments. So on the hardware side, we did use quite a lot of digital synths and it was also a bit of an exploration of a new tech-territory.
My favourites at the moment are older wavetable synths, they are honestly digital rather than being “virtual”-something. I have to admit that I’m not really a fan of modern analogues, they lack the murkiness or mud of the old ones. I like mud, though the new Prophet-6 is pretty amazing sounding.
And when it comes to soft synths, I did use them mostly for layering and supporting uses etc. The problem for me with the soft synths is that I like to record things in a pretty old fashioned way and that is something I cannot do with the software. For example overdubbing, using hardware effects / running signals through guitar amps is hard or boring to do with softsynths, since you lack the proper interaction with the instrument and other hardware.
Your favourite songs on ‘Ultima’?
Juho: It’s funny, I don’t really have one particular favourite. I tend to view the record as a whole, and I think the songs emphasise that: there’s less immediate tracks – they’re all meant to complement one another and sort of slowly creep in over time. Perhaps the tranquillity of ‘Proxima’ is something that I really like, but again that’s probably because it’s right after the intense crescendo of ‘Stranger’.
Tomi: ‘Clockwork’, ‘Proxima’ and ‘Heaven’ are my favourites. I think they are the most atmospheric pieces on the record. I’m hoping that ‘Heaven’ finds its audience, it’s a beautiful song. ‘Clockwork’ and ‘Proxima’ are both quite minimalistic yet deep and full of feelings, these were also my favourite tracks to mix / produce.
Who do you think ‘Ultima’ will appeal to?
Juho: Hopefully to anyone who still has the capacity to listen to a full LP of what I regard as traditional pop. It’s not a party album really, so I think it demands a little more time and individual attention. It’s a combination of quite dreamy and melodic synth tracks with a lot of romantic themes. If those as a concept sound at all appealing, then please proceed to ‘Ultima’ territory.
What’s next for VILLA NAH? Will you tour ‘Ultima’?
Juho: We’ve been playing some record release shows here in Finland and try to stay active in our studio in the meantime. Plenty of tracks are still unreleased, plenty more get born all the time. We’re having fun. At the end of the day, that’s really what matters.
Tomi: Yeah, aside from the ‘Ultima’ related gigs, we’ll be spending time in the studio as it also works as a safe haven from the real world, keeps us sane.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to VILLA NAH
Special thanks to Tom Riski at Solina Records
‘Ultima’ is released by Solina Records in vinyl and digital formats
Having released one of the best electronic pop albums of 2010 in their debut ‘Origin’, Helsinki’s VILLA NAH went quiet after a well-received UK tour supporting OMD.
But childhood friends Juho Paalosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä are now back after a five-year hiatus. During that break, Paalosmaa formed SIN COS TAN with ‘Origin’ co-producer Jori Hulkkonen and their three albums to date filled the void left by VILLA NAH. ‘Ultima’ sees the duo and Hulkkonen present an escapist soundtrack for a Nordic summer, swathed in dreamy synthesizers.
While Paalosmaa’s vocals are as forlorn as ever, there is a cautious air of optimism too. Beginning the album in earnest, the ‘Ultima’ title instrumental is a gently atmospheric waltz that would make a fine theme to a romantic art movie.
A sweet pizzicato movement shapes ‘Vortex’ with its marvellous synthscape retaining the filmic characteristics of the album’s intro before the beat kicks in. ‘Mistakes’ takes things more uptempo as gorgeous synth vibrato and some harp-like runs sit over an inventive rhythm construction. It all proves that modern electronica doesn’t have to be set to the retarded 4/4 monotony of most generic club music; the song’s uplifting choral qualities and soaring chorus make this an early album highlight.
While VILLA NAH’s debut showcased an affinity with OMD, both ‘Life is Short’ and ‘Love Chance’ echo another Merseyside act CHINA CRISIS; the former is punctuated with synthetic brass tones while the latter exudes a distinctly exotic flavour with plenty of wistful melodies in keeping with the song’s title. The wonderful “new romance” of ‘Love Chance’ also sees prominent but subtle use of rhythmic guitar in the vein of Messrs Daly and Lundon.
A gentle piano motif introduces ‘Heaven’ before more downcast overtones and guitar textures make their presence felt. Meanwhile things get darker on ‘Clockwork’, a mood piece that is possibly the most sombre offering on the album.
‘Spy’ takes on a nostalgic feel by borrowing the theme music for the vintage computer game ‘Spy Vs. Spy’ with the blessing of its composer Nicholas Scarim. This clever interpolation for the song’s lead melody is a perfect fit for VILLA NAH’s template, harking back to ‘Ways To Be’ from ‘Origin’. As the layers build, Paalosmaa even starts to sound like Robert Smith of THE CURE guesting on a fantasy track for JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s ‘Electronica 3’!
The magnificent ‘Stranger’ can be held up as an example as to why Paalosmaa’s melancholic songwriting prowess and Hyyppä’s technical knowhow gained VILLA NAH so many new fans when they opened for OMD in 2010; the detuned synths provide drama and tension while still retaining a vital sense of melody.
To finish ‘Ultima’, the serene ‘Proxima’ canters along and beautifully rings like a grown-up lullaby.
‘Ultima’ is a welcome return for VILLA NAH as a mature successor to ‘Origin’. While there are fewer uptempo, dance friendly songs compared to its predecessor, the passing years have naturally provoked a more sophisticated outlook that will appeal to all generations of classic synthpop aficionados.
Hienoa että olette palanneet…
With thanks to Tom Riski at Solina Records and Tapio Normall
‘Ultima’ is released by Solina Records in vinyl LP and digital formats
VILLA NAH have just unleashed ‘Stranger’, a welcome return after six years that attaches Paalosmaa’s melancholic songwriting prowess with Hyyppä’s technical knowhow. Produced by the duo again with Jori Hulkkonen, ‘Stranger’ is a fine juxtaposition of swirling arpeggios and melodic tension.
Describing his outlook on life as “mostly cloudy with an occasional ray of sunshine coming through”, Paalosmaa’s magical but haunted voice compliments the track’s fat detuned synths and hypnotic, but intelligent dance structures. It was this combination of dusty synthesizers and classic pop sensibilities that gained VILLA NAH many new fans when they opened for OMD.
Answering a question as to why the Nordic region was a hub for great electronic music, Paalosmaa said back in 2010: “most of the time it’s so dark and cold outside, you might as well just turn the synths on and stay inside…”
Live dates are planned for this summer, while the new as-yet-untitled album is set to feature songs such as ‘Love Chance’ and ‘Lights Out’ which were premiered on the OMD tour.
Now, if only MIRRORS could make some kind of return too…
‘Origin’ is still available on CD, vinyl and download via Keys Of Life