Released: 05/07/2012 | Label: Hydrahead |
“You may purchase one copy of each color. Anyone caught ordering more than one copy of each color will have their order canceled immediately.” - Circle's distro site
In 2006, my good friend Akhbar Shabazz Jenkins and I were coming down from a long acid trip swirling around the MoMA, staring slack-jawed at The Persistence of Memory as the grape-shaped security guards who we knew at any minute would throw us out. Winding down at some uber-cosy New York City coffee joint, though not completely, because I remember being fixated on a skullface lady with a giraffe neck and flailing wirey fingers that'd made me convinced she'd pierce a hole in the roof-- we decide it'd be real fun to head to the Knitting Factory and catch Merzbow and Jim O'Rourke.
We get there just in time for the support act Circle (no, not the jazz supergroup consisting of Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton and Dave Holland– though I'd love to ask them one day if there's a connection.) Watching this weird Finnish band on a post-good trip turns out spectacularly.
We squeeze our way past the bar, the room is jock-full. The stage dimly lit, we hear a thuggy bass lapse and nonchalant jazz drumming begin to take place. A guy sits at the keys stage-centre, guitars kick in piling on subtle layer after layer like a smoke draft, he opens his mouth and out comes some weird mystic folk chant in a language incomprehensible. Mildly entertained at first, but then it's like the whole room starts lifting-- riffs turning into jams, the keys dissolve into intense beats like a snake charmer; someone lights a cigarette and before we know it, it's like the roof is gunna blow. In all my druggy meanderings I'm looking at the stage with eyes the size of the superbowl, I look over at Akhbar and he looks back at me with the exact expression. We shift our gaze back to the stage. We're incapacitated by this nuclear reaction of psychedelic numbskulling, and by the time it spirals down I'm breathless. The lights go down, and I make a run for the merch stand.
I ask the geek with one of those squeegy mops on his head which record to pick, if I can only afford one. Seeing that the prices exorbitantly Nordic. He pointed to a live album- Raunio (2001).
Like Raunio, it wasn't long before I discovered most of their back catalogue a series of live recordings, and understandably so. I also came to find the vast span of releases at times piecewise and near-insurmountable; their style, eccentric and myriadic. But this seems true of a lot of heavy drone/psych bands, Boris, for example, have been dabbling in so many styles it's hard to keep track. As oft criticized they may be, I've never thought it a particular weakness in Circle's case, their exploration in recordings live and studio have only contributed to what I thought, the creation of their own genre. This genre apparently, "NWOFHM/AVANT-AOR". The Can-like inner workings of past albums are unavoidable-- take the title track to the self-titled album Circle (2007) or Alotus (2009) for example. Or there's an element of play and conundrum folk eccentricities in Guillotine (2003), or the knick knacky of Forest (2004)-- but again their explorations span in such a huge catalog, it seems futile to compare one album to the next.
I will say this however, one of my favorites, and very Eno-Music for Airportsesque, is their album Miljard (2006). The recording of that entire album, the way the piano is mic'ed in that big room sound still sends shivers down my arm. I think it's one of the most pristine, beautiful recordings they've put together and is tale-telling of their style-- able to laminate the most minimalist tones with glassy codas and swathes of grace and precision.
But unlike a lot of improvised krauty choruses and grooves, their newest album Manner appears a pre-meditated, purposeful accessible way into Circle as a band. I wouldn't say watered-down necessarily, but moderated. It's also record that goes by unusually fast, being six tracks of forty minutes in length.
I had put in the pre-order for Manner, their debut LP on Hydrahead, and first on a stamped hardcore/metal label. It's interesting to wonder if the making of this album was with the new batch of audience in mind. It also comes straight after the release of live album, Serpent carrying some of the same songs on Manner, though with unwieldy force given that it's live. Nonetheless, the album as a whole pronounces their arrival into a brave new world.
Opening track “Lintu Joe” may immediately scare the kids away. It very much fits into the description of their avant-tinkerings with metal, imagine Pat Metheny meets Terry Riley. The following track is staggeringly more straightforward in the Seventies' rock sense, discernible melody and direction, turning tricks as natural to Priest, Canned Heat, Jethro Tull. Then follows a cover of Brian Eno's “Here Come the Warm Jets”. It's at least a prophetic call, I think, with a new audience in mind they want to overstate they're both dabblers of the classic metal as well as the more experimental sides, say, the same way King Crimson were. Interestingly, on Eno's original album, he's known to have played the backing tracks whilst singing nonsensical melodies over it, and the same elements of free association and let-loose bizarreness. No doubt, the use of timbre and play in vocal-effect also seem particularly present in Circle albums.
“New Fantasy” feels irrevocably like the real introduction to this record, though I know their B-side might not necessarily be one. It joyfully carries elements of clean, jazzy-piano on Miljard, yet much more operatic and dramatic in nature. Like the rigging of a stage and a king welcoming a cast of characters-- a folk style of singing that seems influenced by Karelian traditional tunes, quite similar to the Norwegian Sami roots paired with over-the-top orchestration. The following track “Mustaa Kultaa” ("Black Gold", in Finnish) kickstarts their kraut-worshipping, though the repetition-infectious drone, after awhile it's not particularly exciting or different from other Circle tracks in the past. But it melts indiscernible and smoothly into the next track--giving way to a cool, detached groove like a metronome ticking away for a wizard's count.
There's a definite disparity between this album and the feeling I first got of megalomaniac, sweat-dripping fever witnessing them live. I say, Manner's a passable introduction for the stinking beast. But recommended at least, for geeks only, the packaging of eyeball vinyl in the color of shockwave white.
At least that's the one I got.