Anyone who’s floated in the same air as the soundworks produced by Glasgow-based artist Hanna Tuulikki will be aware of her use of the voice as a vessel of ritualistic expression on land and sea. Whereas works such as ‘Pollockshaws Song Portrait’, 2006, and ‘Kensington Cradle Songs’, 2007, were conscious attempts to tap into an essence of community in a human urban context, ‘Call and Response (Polly Vaughn)’, 2005/6 and ‘Salutation To The Sun (Replica)’, 2005, were equally real communings with more elemental forces.
With Nalle, the band she formed with Chris Hladowski and Aby Vulliamy, Tuulikki allows herself to unleash the full range of her remarkable voice, tapping into an intense vein of primal spookiness bolstered by arrangements drawn from Nordic and East European sources. Such fragile and instinctive explorations of musical cross-currents chimed too with an ongoing back-to-nature rediscovery of ancient forms among a younger generation of musicians. Not so much like punk never happened, then, but as if the laptop has been shut down for good.
Recorded in Glasgow with pop boffin John Cavanagh, antique analogue equipment is added to this follow-up to Nalle’s debut album, By Chance Upon Waking. Over six songs, such subtle underscoring never distracts from this new set’s already spectral, other-worldly feel provided by dense, droning arrangements led by bouzouki, viola, accordion, harmonium and the Finnish Kantele.
It’s a beguiling and demanding collection. The opening ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ takes its title from a Robert Frost poem before segueing into the strident, ultimately lovely chorale of ‘Young Light’.
Parts of Tuulikki’s ‘Airs Of The Sea’ installation, in which the breaths of a hundred Cromarty residents were recorded impersonating the encroaching waves, are added to ‘Voi Ruusuni (O Rose)’. At moments this jaw-harp-heavy Finnish Gypsy song wouldn’t sound out of place on a Velvet Underground record, forming as it does a magnificent centrepiece along with the following ‘Secret Of The Seven Sirens’. This medieval epic breaks midway into a clattering, foreboding take on the children’s traditional sooth-saying magpie rhyme.
A mournful, liturgical air pervades throughout ‘Alice’s Ladder’, while on ‘First Eden Sank To Grief’ there are hints of ancient choral rounds.
The Sirens Wave may stem from Tuulikki’s wide-eyed vision as much as the swoops and soars of her voice, but her harmonies with Vuilliamy are astonishing to behold. Here it’s as if they’re grieving the dead before finally taking flight into the ether.
Neil Cooper is a writer and critic