Vitkaste – Lestinjoki

The second part of my mini-feature on modern Finnish bands focuses on the debut album by Helsinki-based ensemble/multimedia art collective Vitkaste, a seven-piece created in 2003 by guitarist/keyboardist Joonas Hietala, bassist Vesa Makkonen and drummer Heikki Korhola. The album’s title, Lestinjoki, comes from the river in western Finland near which Hietala spent the summer of 2008, and wrote most of what would later become the body of Vitkaste’s debut. The composition was then expanded to become a suite in six parts – dubbed “Lestinjoki Electronic Acoustic Symphony” – and the album was released in the early months of 2011.

Clocking in at a mere 32 minutes, Lestinjoki is more of an enhanced EP than an actual full-length album. Though the striking artwork by Joonas Hietala and Eetu Pellonpää might suggest a band steeped in the psychedelic tradition, Vitkaste’s musical offer treads somewhat different territory – an eclectic, lushly arranged concoction that blends smooth jazz-rock with more conventional symphonic prog modes, throwing a hint of chamber rock into the mix. While previous reviewers of the album have drawn comparisons to Camel – especially if the English band’s debut album, with its jazzy overtones, is taken as a frame of reference –the near-legendary Wigwam, one of the trailblazers of the original Finnish prog scene, would also deserve a mention as a model for Vitkaste’s approach.

As Lestinjoki is meant as a single composition, the pauses between the tracks (accordingly named Part 1-6) are nearly imperceptible, creating an impression of remarkable cohesion and fluidity. The music itself is very pleasing to the ear, never jarring or overly convoluted, and its complexity is rendered in subtle shadings rather than dramatic contrasts. Not surprisingly for a piece of music named after a river, the six parts of Lestinjoki flow smoothly and steadily, enhanced by the almost liquid, tinkling sound of instruments like the harp and the vibraphone. Violin and accordion add a touch of sedate, folksy melancholy, while occasional chanting and turntable scratches inject an eerie, faintly disquieting note into the richly orchestral texture of the composition.

Although none of the instruments can be said to dominate, a more focused listen will reveal the discreet yet unmistakable role of the drums in setting the pace and mood of each individual piece, with subtle shifts whose presence may not always be immediately perceived . The guitar also works behind the scenes, only occasionally stepping into the limelight, sometimes providing a more assertive foil to the gentler voice of the piano (as in “Osa  Kuusi”, where the guitar sound is intensified by the use of the wah-wah pedal). On the other hand, sax and clarinet contribute a jazzier feel, at times perhaps a bit too “loungey” for comfort, though the band have mastered dynamics well enough to know when to turn the volume down and go for a more atmospheric mood.

As a whole, Lestinjoki is a solid effort, easy on the ear yet not too streamlined for the demanding tastes of the average prog fan, and short enough to be enjoyed in one sitting without having to push the Pause button. Vitkaste are clearly a talented outfit, and their debut album – though not exactly ground-breaking, and slightly on the derivative side of things – definitely shows the right amount of potential for interesting future developments. However, for the time being, the gorgeous artwork remains Lestinjoki‘s most memorable feature.

Tracklist:

1. Osa Yksi (4:04)
2. Osa Kaksi (4:28)
3. Osa Kolme (4:33)
4. Osa Neljä (4:04)
5. Osa Viisi (5:31)
6. Osa Kuusi (9:39)

Line-up:

Joonas Hietala – organ, synthesizer, piano, guitar, accordion, percussion, clapping, bass (1)
Vesa Makkonen – bass, voice (4)
Heikki Korhola – drums, clapping
Sini Palokangas  – soprano saxophone, vibraphone, violin, alto saxophone (3), voice (6)
Jussi Hurskainen – alto saxophone
Nico Kanerva – clarinet
Heikki Puska – harp
Janne Vuorensyrjä – turntables

Links:

http://vitkaste.net/
http://eetupellonpaa.deviantart.com/

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