22-Pistepirkko are a 3 piece swampy, new wave, blues, punk, electronic garage, psychedelic rock band from the country village of Utajärvi in Northern Finland. They are one of Scandinavia’s best kept secrets. I’ve been following them since the eighties and I’ve seen them play live twice in Sweden, once on a huge stage at Hultsfred festival, and once in the smallest club in the world in Stockholm, (Passagen). Eleven is their 7th album released in 1998 and one of my particular favourites. It’s hard to know where to start when you are telling people about a band you really like that they may not have heard of, when they’ve released 13 albums! Although I’ve picked this one, there’s many more to discover. And if you are wondering, 22-Pistepirkko translates to 22 spot ladybird.
The album opens with Taxi 74, soft vibey bass line and violin sample, the drums moody and then brash, strange sounds in the background. I love the way he sings with his Finnish accent and strange voice. The band has P.K. Keränen singing playing guitar, Asko Keränen on keys and samples and bass and everything else, Espe Haverinen on the drums.
On Onion Soup you get to hear P.K. Keränen more clearly even though it’s over distorted guitars and crashing drums. Musically, there’s always something hypnotic in the feel of the songs, they are that rare thing, a groovy rock band. Another fascinating thing about them is that instead of always having instruments playing formulated parts to give the songs dynamics they often just land in a section and fill it with sounds. Onion Soup has one of the great 22-Pistepirkko middle eights – and some strange lyrics:
My mind is crawling
Into a silvery sea
Cruise control on the loose
Lizards licking my toes
Although their first album was in Finnish, all their other records are in English and they have some peculiar imagery and frankly I’m not quite sure what it’s all about? Coma Moon for example, (great title), seems to be something about going on honeymoons and getting divorced? A very strange piece of music. The band is an experiment using traditional forms, that in itself is compelling. Every time I listen to them I hear something new.
Sad Lake City is next:
Going back to the sad lake city
To pay a visit to the dead and their city
They have that wonderful mixture of organic and technological in the same way Beck does. Interesting guitars, incessant drums and always something weird going on behind it all. It’s moody when it’s brash – that’s a real musical achievement. Angular feathers, concrete pillows. It reminds me a little of CAN.
Boardroom Walk, is such a lovely mood, drum machine and entrancing acoustic guitar but unpredictable parts, even though the melodies are so accessible. Exquisite pauses, echoes, long reverbs. They were breaking new ground when they made this record in 1998. And oh that wonderful pause and guitar re intro at 1.45.
Hey Man is like a Mercury Rev song, an eccentric and macabre sepia tone circus character contemplating regrets in his late night caravan.
Let The Romeo Weep jumps to the future to pre-empt Radiohead by years.
Beautiful Morning starts again with machine and reverb sound with acoustic guitar, yearning melody and slow build with strings and electric guitar parts, drums shuffle into another unpredictable section. All through their songs as each new part happens, they must glance around at each other and wonder where they have landed. P.K. Keränen’s occasional mispronouncing words makes it even better:
(Iron) pony is waiting
I only take my spurs
And shoot my dog
Aphex Twin’s, On, from 1993, may have influenced this next track, Frustration but you get the feeling that it’s more that as technology arrived they embraced it, learnt how to use it and fitted it into their band and created this fascinating hybrid. The last track, Shadow has these elements, electric guitar parts with synths and programmed beats and sections that you would never find in a rock band although that is essentially what they are. Even the outro is unusual, the mix, the fade, the reprise. What an interesting band.
Never stuck, always brimming with ideas, fascinated by technology but never losing their melody or their feel. They are a constant challenging experiment that leaves most rock bands way behind whilst never sounding like they are trying to be weird, they make mixing all these disparate elements sound completely natural. And this is only one album of 13!