Review by Lee Blackstone
Pauanne is a Finnish trio haunted by, as they put it, the “utterly outrageous” beliefs of the past. The delightful cover photograph of the group finds Kukka Lehto (violin), Tero Pennanen (keyboards, prepared piano, organs, and programming) and Janne Haavisto (drums and percussion) ankle-deep in snow, wearing garb that looks as it were out of some primitivistic future; modern Finnish musicians, turned by frozen water into something rich and strange.
But, Pauanne are not drawing a line between what has gone before, and the lived-in present. The trio slyly point out that the “outrageous” beliefs of our forebears are still with us. You are as likely to have next-door neighbors with retrograde attitudes towards women and foreigners as you were in the past, when they might have cried out against witches and threatening invaders. Pauanne make this point explicitly. “Rauta (A Charm For Power Over Iron),” is a song that draws upon a spell to: Build a stone wall to stand in front of me
From which a boy would spring up against enemies.
The band compares this ancient belief in iron’s protective abilities to the rhetoric found in 21st century America: We will build a great wall
We will build a great wall along the southern border
Are you ready?
Indeed: are you ready? And what does this say about human nature, down through the years in all times, all places?
Pauanne bring back the tunes and voices of the pagan Finnish forests. Throughout the album, the group’s arrangements play off carefully selected archival tapes of Finnish folk singers, the hiss-and-crackle of the past rubbing shoulders against modern production techniques and bold musicianship. In Estonia, the band Trad. Attack! have likewise taken old field recordings of singers, sinking them deep into modern hybrids. Pauanne likewise updates their source recordings of curses, spells, and shepherds’ songs, but they do so without four-to-the-floor gloss. Instead, Pauanne sound grounded, yet experimental. Lehto’s violin playing is a focal point, and the addition of Pennanen’s organ playing adds a different dimension to the group’s work. Haavisto’s percussion, as on “Maakillinen Voima (Magic Power),” drives the trio along.
Sometimes the group sets up a danceable pulse; opening “Susiraja (The Back Of Beyond)” percolates and gets you moving – but, that’s the devil’s work. The music is also sometimes situated into a floating dreamscape: the track “Svinja” glistens on percussion and cymbal work, its inspiration drawn from the idea of saying “Amen!” on a falling star to prevent the birth of a half-human forest creature. The stateliness of “Juliaana” is quite stunning. An instrumental inspired by a story of forbidden love, the lovers’ troubles of the “Juliaana” song takes on the character of a church service due to the interplay between Pennanen’s organ work and Lehto’s violin playing.
"Akkojen Hommia" (excerpts)
The relations between the sexes found in the early folklore lead to a wry feminist response by Pauanne. The video (below) for “Siihen Laihin Eläny (That’s The Way I’ve Lived)” is a technicolor folk tale inspired by a 1679 witchcraft accusation against Helka Niilontytär, who was accused of praying while intoxicated (she was trying to protect her cattle). Lehto’s violin sounds as if scraped raw; the rhythm ramps up into a feverish trance. Pauanne contrast the derogatory way women’s intelligence has been perceived by setting this piece against right-wing Polish politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s 2017 statement in the European parliament: “There is a 20th century stereotype that women have the same intellectual potential as men. It is a stereotype which much be destroyed, because it is not true.” For the patriarchy, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. But elsewhere, we see that men have their own predilections: on “Akkojen Hommia (Womanish Work),” we find that cowherding became women’s work, due to a 1686 law that prohibited men from becoming cowherds. Men were “too strongly attracted to the cows.”
What makes Pauanne’s album so daring is the use of olden beliefs to both puncture, and provide continuity with, our present condition. Pauanne – the Thunder God in Finnish mythology – rumbles us awake to new political and musical possibilities. Tomorrow, we will be the crackling voices of the past. - Lee Blackstone