a closer listen

Olli Aarni ~ Nielu

Finland’s Olli Aarni enjoyed a prolific 2017, releasing a ratio-based loop LP, a triple tape of water recordings, a shared project with Mia Tarkela including a mushroom photo zine, and a split tape with Nuslux that sounded like a music box lullaby but was inspired by alarm clock tones.  Best of all was Nielu, a bleak and beautiful LP that was a little before its time when it was released in October, but is perfect for the winter months.  Inspired by “harsh winters”, Nielu translates as “swallowing” or “vortex”, and gradually engulfs all other sounds in its droning swirl.

The loops endemic to Aarni’s work are still in place, apparent as early as the opening bars; yet the defining characteristic of this two-track release is its sense of forward movement.  We are headed into the vortex, not just spinning; and we may never reemerge.  In a sense, the album serves as the antithesis of the placid Vesiä and the soothing “Lumpeenkuka”.  When the winds and soft precipitation become audible in the fourth minute, one thinks of the last-minute rush to gather everything inside: food, furniture, children.  The difference in Finland is that one is never too sure when one will be able to venture outside again.

And yet, as dense as the textures may get, they also offer a lulling quality, that of safety in a storm or ~ in its closing minutes ~ the calm of the wake, the pure, undisturbed white.  The Finish titles, roughly translated as “Glowing Wind” and “Fog Veil”, display their own sense of synesthesia.  On Side B, a soft underlying drone exudes comfort despite the crackling debris above, like pillowy drifts beneath a thin layer of sleet.  As the volume lowers and the sounds slow, the spirit returns to a setting of stasis.  The final feeling is one of satisfaction, having prepared in advance for such harsh conditions.  (Richard Allen)