Islaja – Tarrantulla (CD Fonal Records)

On her sixth album Merja Kokkonen, under her Islaja guise, unleashes her most accomplished album to date. It builds on her neo-folk beginnings, whilst adding layers of brooding synths to create something that feels like a musical mist being emitted from the speakers.  

The album opens with ‘Ghosts from the Future’. This is a different sounding Kokkonen than we are used to. Her vocals intertwine with synths and strings to create a bewitching sonic experience. There are no beats, which only dawns on me after a second or third listen. This stylistic decision is bold, but then so is ‘Tarrantulla’. ‘Tactile Matrerial’ feels like a proper pop song segued in between the dark introspection of the opening salvo. Even the shronky saxophone solo can’t detract the wild abandon Kokkonen has created throughout. ‘Peace Pilot’ slows things down a bit and creates the same vibe as ‘Ghosts from the Future’ but slightly more upbeat.

When listening to ‘Tarrantulla’ I am reminded of playing wide games in forests as a kid. There is something freeing, and terrifying, about running full pelt through trees and bushes and not knowing what is in front of you. Eventually you find a spot and hunker down. Sweaty. Out of breath and with branches poking and snatching at you. Kokkonen’s vocals are those branches. Latching themselves onto your skin, clothes, and psyche. Once they have hold its hard to get them off. While the album doesn’t break any new ground it is an enjoyably thought-provoking listen. The melodies are wonky and skewed. The synths are ethereal, in a good way, but it’s Kokkonen’s voice that really hammers the album’s emotional content home. Kokkonen has that rare ability to be able to use her voice like an instrument. Instead of just singing words, Kokkonen manages to contort it into uncompromising sounds. It truly is breath-taking. NR