While there is something of the archetypal lonely West in the air, there’s also something unsettled about this song, something that doesn’t want to be entirely constrained within the strummy conventions of so-called Americana.
Melancholy yet upbeat folk rock, “Nowhere” is buoyed by graceful melodies and an even more graceful vocalist, in front woman Tina Karkinen. It is in fact the combination of the rough-edged electric guitar work and Karkinen’s easeful vocal tone that gives me such a good feeling as this song unfolds, and accentuates the impression that there is not any one thing that makes “Nowhere” stand out but rather its nuanced elements working together.
And while there is something of the archetypal lonely West in the air, there’s also something unsettled about this song, something that doesn’t want to be entirely constrained within the strummy conventions of so-called Americana. Swaying Wires is from Finland, for one thing, so their take on this kind of music is legitimately unconventional. If you listen closely you’ll see that the song builds mutably—there are wordless breaks between verses and then the verses themselves change musically with each iteration. One of the song’s most intriguing vagaries happens in the chorus, which on the one hand is rooted in a melody that circles with a gratifying momentum, but on the other hand goes harmonically off the rails in two different places—first in a subtle way (at 2:04; listen to the underlying chord around “made to last”) and then more unsettlingly (at 2:20, in and around the phrase “in a silent movie”). The juxtaposition of Karkinen’s cozy voice and these moments of quiet but willful dissonance is mysterious and persuasive, underscored by that hammering electric guitar. The song compels (and rewards) repeated listens.
Swaying Wires is a quartet from Turku, on the southwest coast, Finland’s oldest city and former capital. You’ll find “Nowhere” on I Left a House Burning, the band’s second album, which was released in January on the Brighton, UK-based indie label Battle Worldwide. MP3 via Insomnia Radio.
Maybe you wouldn’t expect a band from Finland to sound quite so much like the Smiths, but such is musical life in this mashed-up century of ours. And yes I mean really a lot like them: check out the urgent yet lilting minor-key suspended chord strumming; check out the meandering, melancholy melody, and the way it feels as if we’re somehow joining it already in progress; check out (as if you could miss it) the Morrisseyan croon of singer Mattias Björkas. Turns out it is sometimes a very fine line indeed between transcending and re-transmitting one’s influences.
But the song charms me. I keep listening, I keep saying, “Okay, maybe too much,” and yet sure enough, by the time Björkas gets to that part about being lowered into the ground (0:48), the song–ironically enough–comes alive. In my book, sounding like someone else, even a lot, doesn’t prevent you from writing a good song. And if you’ve written a good song, then look at that: you’ve transcended your influences. (For the record, there’s a healthy dollop of Belle & Sebastian in here too.) I particularly like the changes that unfold through the chorus: how it starts as an extension of the verse but takes first a melodic twist (at “your friends will set up…”; 0:56), and then both a rhythmic and tempo shift (“supporting all the boys…”; 1:02), which is not only not particularly Smiths-like but is in fact nicely unusual. And then the chorus kind of lingers on beyond its natural ending point, which makes the return to the lilting, brisker, strummy section especially effective.
“The Borders of This Land” is the second “side” of an MP3 single the band released on the Swedish label Cosy Recordings in December. (Note that the song is labeled a “live demo” but doesn’t to my ears sound notably demo-ier than the A-side.) I found out about the band via a recent Contrast Podcast with the theme of “Borders”–specifically thanks to JC, who runs the Vinyl Villain blog. MP3 via Cosy Recordings.