It’s a genre that has come to dominate alternate music: that combination of 60s psychedelica blended with 90s stoner rock. With Tame Impala’s wash of guitar on one end and Mac Demarco’s synths on the other, a host of bands that sound a bit like popping a poncho on Pavement have flooded the indie pop scene. It’s a genre that is already growing bloated with choice and subtle variation; a market that has picked its royals and nobility.
Enter Jaakko Eino Kalevi. Much has been made of the Finnish synth popper’s past as a tram driver in reviews. This probably comes down to the observer role he emanates, as if he is gliding through the world as a bystander, alien to the emotional highs and lows of life. It pairs well with his synth-led melodies, optimistic ‘00s drums and double-tracked vocals, which all create a blanketing effect so strong that at times you can’t isolate any mood from the warm haze. If it weren’t for the satisfyingly hearty (and sometimes satisfyingly jarring) saxophone in the mix, it would be difficult to pick out Kalevi’s droplet in the recent wave of psychedelic rock.
Take the opener of his latest release, Out of Touch ‘China Eddie’. Its pulsing bass and crisp drums keep you afloat above a swelling soup of synths and saxophone, but extracting much more piquancy than that from the barely discernable lyrics or the breathily layered vocals can prove challenging. No coffee shop in their right mind would skip the track, with its Kurt Vile fuzz and radio-friendly pulse, but it’s not likely to burrow deep into the listener’s heart. This said, as muddy as the sound can feel, there is the precision of an introvert who has poured over the record, and when Kalevi’s songs hit the mark they do so in spades.
In ‘People In The Centre of the City’, the Finnish songwriter’s taste for the kitsch of 1980s synth serves him perfectly, with heavy A-ha drums, Ed Banger Records synths, and a scorching sax solo to boot. He sings:
“Imagine yourself rolling up the escalators.
On the other side is a person with much elegance.
Your eyes connect and so do the escalators.
You can never forget that sensation.”
It’s the first time in the album that Jaakko’s voice really permeates the layering, and the clunky emphasis and absence of rhyme make it all the more arresting, like a friend sharing an idea over drinks. His Finnish tongue curls the ‘r’ of ‘escalator’ in a near Bjorrrkian fashion, and though still aloof and removed, this show of character is endearing and catchy. Likewise in ‘Emotions in Motion’, an intriguing fuzz-pop number, his voice flips between almost comically low and breathily high, imbuing the song with a sense of adventure and identity.
The album name Out of Touch proves to be a layered one. The album would be very ‘in touch,’ if that were thing. Fashionable and pleasant, it risks getting lost in the mix. But thanks to a few compelling tracks, when he shows more of himself to his listeners, the album is well worth your time.