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You might question the wisdom of a Helsinki band securing U.S. distribution for a debut LP sung entirely in Finnish. But one listen to this distinctive, charismatic two-year-old quintet, whose name translates in English to “Copper Castle,” and you’ll be captivated by their countless charms, language barriers be damned. Despite Kuparilinna’s short tenure, they’re able to dexterously meld a myriad of styles, both new and old. Their love of ‘60s pop is apparent on the sparkling surf-rock opener “Tuulee,” with twangy, reverb-tinted guitarist Joel Kupiainen even replicating The Ventures’ familiar “Pipeline” opening slide riff halfway through. And Viktoria Kurkina’s swirling, shivery organ and Kupiainen’s fuzzy guitar melody give the hypnotic “Harhailen” a soaring, psych-rock vibe, baring hints of “Incense & Peppermints,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night).”
Elsewhere, the shimmering, serene “Pohjoinen” and the ravishing, violin-shaded (courtesy Kurkina) “Kuin Puun Lehdet” each sport heavenly, church hymn-like harmonies that summon the softer side of The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel. Yet despite such nostalgic nods, they’re no rash revivalists. The animated “Aurinko,” bolstered by guest Jan Wälchli’s jubilant trumpet, beckons present-day bands Belle & Sebastian, Hidden Cameras, and Loney Dear, with friendly-voiced frontman Tuomas Palonen’s soothing singing even exhibiting elements of Stuart Murdoch, Joel Gibb, and Emil Svanängen. As well, the punchy, prettily-plucked “Pois Piilosta” displays an R.E.M. “Exhuming McCarthy”-esque drumbeat, while the vigorous “Viisi Merta” (which opens with a brief Ennio Morricone/spaghetti western-inspired whistle!) has a Veronica Falls “Found Love in a Graveyard” feel. The latter is reinforced by the rapid rhythms of bassist Palonen and drummer Miikka Pirinen, while Palonen’s romantic croon and Kupiainen’s guitar tones are seasoned with Spanish flavorings.
However, it’s the three more locally influenced, Eastern European folk-inspired tunes on which co-vocalist Liila Jokelin sings lead that stimulate the most. In fact, her prodigious pipes, compared with the pleasanter Palonen, almost make them sound like a different band! On the stately, stouthearted “Lemmestä Tahdon Laulaa,” her strapping, sensual, Slavic-accented trill recalls Russian underground poet/singer Yanka Dyagileva (1966-1991). Meanwhile, the playful, polka-peppered “Tänne Vaan,” featuring Heidi Haapoja’s fanciful flute, and the propulsive, punk-edged standout “Suostu En” are both reminiscent of the fantastic, all-female 1980s Czech band Zuby Nehty (and their earlier incarnations, Dybbuk and Plyn), who I saw playing their first-ever NYC shows – at Brooklyn’s Rock Shop and Manhattan’s outdoor Czech festival – in October 2010. Granted, at some point you’ll want to acquire a translated lyric sheet, to learn what they’re singing about. But as with other recent non-English LPs I’ve adored – like The Secret Society’s 2011 Spanish-sung Peores Cosas Pasan en el Mar and Ed’s 2014 Italian-intoned Meglio Soli – it’s easy to enjoy music in an unfamiliar tongue when the singing and playing is this enchanting and enlivening. (kuparilinna.bandcamp.com)
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