Review: Jannen Hengentuotteet - "Huonoa Duuria"

Jannen Hengentuotteet - Huonoa Duuria
(2017 Hulina)

A good portion of my current music intake comes in short bursts. When online streaming platforms like Soundcloud and Apple Music are your main resources for finding and consuming music, it's easy to treat individual songs like tiny serving-sized boxes of cereal lined on the grocery store's shelf: you expect them to court your palate with eye-catching cover art and promises of flavors primed to hijack your levels of serotonin and dopamine. While sound can't carry the sugar or artificial sweeteners that a miniature box of Golden Grahams can, it can draw potential listeners in with abbreviated track lengths and repetitive structures. When plucking tunes from their albums and shuffling them into playlists is the norm, there isn't always room for subtlety or patience -- acts all over the creative spectrum like Alex G, Playboi Carti, and Quarterbacks are all excellent examples of artists that create bold, brief and memorable tunes that explore unique textures while keeping things concise. 

I don't think that's a bad thing, though. I like the ability to hop from one idea to another at a moment's notice. Stirring several genres into a single listening session helps keep my ears fresh, and often lets me make unexpected connections and comparisons as a reviewer. Just like convenience food, easy access to music is comfy and readily available, but, in the end, it's still best to incorporate more wholesome options into your diet too, as I've learned over the past week. 

I finally earned my driver's license on Tuesday, and have been taking the opportunity to re-visit some old cassettes with the help of my station wagon's deck, letting full albums play as I drive to work. There's something freeing about spending fifteen minutes isolated in a two-ton exoskeleton with only the company of a good record. It's making me appreciate lengthy pieces of music again: post-rock jams, cohesive concept works, compilations, and just about anything that challenges my attention span. 

Jannen Hengentuotteet's new 38-minute single, Huonoa Duuria ("Bad Major Key" in Finnish), is a release perfect for long drives, and I'm tempted to make my own cassette version of it if the project's label doesn't plan to do so. Pasted together with a fluttering hi-hat rhythm, the tune traverses its dense weaves of guitaristry as effortlessly as cars seem to glide across the interstate while percussive breaks in the road's yellow dividing line punctuate the drive. 

The record makes its Krautrock influences known from the start. Twangy, drawn-out chords are draped over an off-kilter beat before a few staccato riffs knit them in place. The guitar is joined by translucent keyboards, lavished on the arrangement with little restraint. Here, it resembles a chopped and clumsily re-assembled version of Mac Demarco's "Chamber of Reflection", saturated with watery tones. Maybe we're not driving at all, but actually waterskiing on a crest of reverb.

As Huonoa Duuria works its way into a more danceable groove, the keys lend their echoing jackets of residue to the guitars, which begin to sound as jazzy as they do shoegazey. This is, in my opinion, the composition's strongest movement, pulling the key elements of Hengentuottet's sound together while never holding to firmly to form. Though much of the record is likely improvised, Huonoa Duuria never feels like the work of a "jam band". It's a bit closer to the post-rock of Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, minus the grandiosity. 

That's what makes the record so listenable: despite its lofty ambition, Huonoa remains pleasant, focused, and humble throughout, even as it devolves into a folk-rock dronescape and then eventually into an amorphous blob of dissonant strings. It isn't until the last few minutes of the piece that Hengentuotteet reaches its climax, slowly coating its tense piano rolls with horns, synths, and theremin squeals. Though it takes a full 37 minutes for Huonoa Duuria to blossom into something vast and hard-hitting, it's the process of getting there that makes it worth the price of admission. Next time you're on a road trip, leave this playing on the aux cord -- this is a record best played in the background, lulling you into complacence before gripping you with a dramatic tonal shift.