Hailing from Helsinki, Finland, Phenomenal Creature claim a modern folk genre, but deliver well beyond its traditional boundaries.There’s a touch of rock, a snippet of classical, a moment of punk and even a sprinkling of electro, delivered through strings of all sizes. Yet the sound they offer on Vettenvalvoja has an almost-live quality, achieved through the old-school expedient of recording the band playing together in a single room.
Resting on powerful percussion and topped off with vocals to die for, the band’s diversity of influences in wrapped into a refreshing collection that we are delighted to premiere here.
The album opens with “Dark Lights” – simple, stripped-back folk guitar, supporting Rosita Manninen’s simple, clear vocals. Building with percussion, strings and layers of harmony, there’s a hint of country to the vibe. Never complicated, always authentic, this is a toe-tapper easing gently into what the band has to offer.
Which is definitely not more of the same.
“Vultures” is rock. Not folky-rock-lite, but folk-rock with a metal edge. It might open with a few chords of classical cello, but it plunges into heavy-duty rhythms and vocal attack. The contrast feeds into the lyrics too, if proof were needed that variety is the beating heart of this band – “our feathers sing the symphonies while we eat up all the dirt”.
Ready for the next ride? Traditional as they come, title track “Vettenvalvoja” brings the sound a sea shanties in 3/4 time. Translating as “the watcher of waters”, it’s not surprising that music and lyrics (sung in Finnish) evoke the dance of the ocean.
If pop is your thing, “We All Who Live”, with its R&B melody and contemporary vocal styling is for you. Catchy as you like, with little earworms wriggling through the tune, the track segues smoothly into “Ocean Of Roars” which ramps up the traditional flavour with fiddle and percussion.
Taking it down a notch or two, “Sky Blue Sky” provides a showcase for Rosita’s vocals against pizzicato-string raindrops. Achingly emotional, this is a ballad of disappointment in a life of abundance, acknowledging that we can find life hard to live, even when we seem to have everything. Continuing the theme of yearning for things we can’t have in life and in love, “Someday’s Stranger” is exquisitely unpretentious, arranged with light hands and open hearts. Rooted in layered harmonies, “Loneliest Creature” completes a trilogy of songs reflecting the disparity between what we want and what we have “If I had the powers that I wish I had, I would be the loneliest creature here on earth.” Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.
Channelling Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”, penultimate track “Black Sea” opens with “We are the crack where all the light comes in”. Set against a travelling rhythm, this is a contradiction of a song. Like the ocean in its subject, it’s cheery, yet listen carefully and there’s a darkness within “We hear the waves and we hear their screams, let us dive deep into the sea”.
Closing the album, “Intentions” offers a song of comfort in love. Held by rhythmic strings and decorated occasionally by resonant cello, the orchestration is both sublime and challenging. Of all the tracks on the album, “Intentions” demonstrates the band’s musicianship and, in signing off, provides a calling card for further exploration of their mastery of melody.
Describing the core of the album as “melodic, poetic and vocal-driven songs” with lyrics that “grasp the eternal questions of life and it’s limitations, of compassion, loneliness and of friendship and love” Phenomenal Creature have woven together their diversity of inspiration through a theme of water and the sea. The weave is sufficiently gentle that each song shines in it’s own space and time. The album remains uncontrived, showcasing songwriting talent, musicianship and flawless vocals.
Phenomenal Creature are: Rosita Manninen (lead vocals, vocal harmonies, flute); Joona Mäkelä (composer, guitar & string instruments, vocal harmonies); Seidi Guzejev (violin, vocal harmonies, synths, glockenspiel); Saara Viika (cello, piano, backing vocals); Joel Pihlaja (drums, percussions, backing vocals), bringing experience from bands including Hisser, Lady Escape, Café de Abejas and Jesufåglar.
Also performing on the album, which was recorded and mixed by Tuomas Skopa at ArtLab Studio, Helsinki and mastered by Markus Leminen, are Esko Grundström, (double bass tracks 2, 3, 5, 8); Ville Venäläinen (1st violin tracks 2, 6, 10), Lotta Corin (viola tracks 2, 6, 10), and Tuomas Skopa (electric bass & piano track 8)
Self-released on May 26th, take a listen to Vettenvalvoja via the audio below, and keep in touch with Phenomenal Creature for tour dates and more at:
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