Friday, June 27, 2014

Crossing the Boundaries

Mikki Kauste has been writing music for Egotrippi for at least 15 years. Like any ambitious songwriter, he has probably never aimed to write only certain type of music, such as music to meet the conception of what is suitable for Egotrippi – not that “suitable for Egotrippi” is even easy to determine in the first place. As Mikki developed as a songwriter, new influences began to manifest themselves in his compositions. At some point he noticed he had written a bunch of songs that he didn't think would suit Egotrippi but he didn't feel like giving them to other artists either. Mikki decided to go solo.

The result was an album called Lintumies, released in May 2013. The album has been labeled as schlager music and while certain songs (Turmio, Oisin kerrankin mies, Rakkauden roinaa) sound very much like schlager, there are also other things such as timeless intimate pop ballads, following in the footsteps of the Walker Brothers' orchestrated grandiosity: Prologi (Lintumies), Pyydät liikaa, and Hyvästi Amsterdam.

Mikki has described his vision as pop music expanded towards grandiose Anglo-American pop á la Dusty Springfield, old Finnish schlager, Italian schlager, and French chanson. Also fascination towards old jazz has surely influenced Mikki's melodic sensibility. Even his jangly power pop song Tie from the 2011 Syksyn sävel song contest fits the album both musically and thematically. In a way Lintumies is a real crossover album, showing that different musical styles can easily be put together because they all have certain common roots in the golden decades of pop music.

So, what if this music had been released as an Egotrippi album? The audience would probably have been quite surprised, even confused, even though Egotrippi has been pushing its musical (and lyrical) boundaries during the past ten or more years. I do understand the decision to release the Lintumies material as a solo album. It was time for Mikki to show what he can do without his band – and he shines like never before.

Lintumies is a truly high-quality, coherent, intimate album full of timeless melodies. I am especially impressed by the heavenly ballads. The album lyrics are really good but Mikki's voice expresses much more than any words could ever do. Mikki is a really distinctive vocalist and he has been getting better and better throughout the years. On this album he is free from all boundaries, resulting in his most heartfelt renditions.

Somehow I get the feeling that this is only the beginning. Coming next, a jazz album? A chanson album? My expectations are getting high!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

20 Personal Egotrippi Favorites

Yes, you guessed it just right. I am planning to write a lot more about Egotrippi but first, here is a list of my favorite Egotrippi songs, a list that practically wrote itself.

Actually, I had already a picked a similar list of favorite Hollies songs before this and decided to do the same with Egotrippi. The Hollies list is coming up later. 

Given that there were eight Egotrippi studio albums and two compilations to pick from, many awesome songs had to be left out. There are no songs from the first album and there is only one song with lead vocals by Knipi – the competition was really tough. I couldn't decide which song was better than which so decided to put the songs in alphabetical order. I included a link to each song, YouTube or other.

Album: Vielä koittaa uusi aika (2006)

This is a very sad song even though some parts of the arrangement sound like a happy fanfare. The song was written by Mikki Kauste who also gives a heartbreaking yet peaceful lead vocal. The song structure is very good, allowing the song to grow and get more intense towards the end, ending with heavenly harmonies that sound like they could have been taken from Teenage Fanclub's repertoire (the Beach Boys could also be a relevant comparison...).

Album: Pilvien alla, maan päällä (2013)

Another song written by Mikki Kauste, this was originally written for the Finnish Idols semi-finalists to sing. The Egotrippi version is surely far superior. It is very beatlesque, and the vocal harmony work especially in the chorus is beyond all perfection and blissfulness. At one point I just kept listening to the harmonies in complete amazement over and over again. I think this is one of the most pleasant song Egotrippi ever has recorded, even though this version has also received some strangely negative feedback. Maybe the message of the song is too positive and optimistic, I wouldn't know.

3. Häälaulu 
Album: Maailmanloppua odotellessa (2008)

In this song written by Knipi the narrator is attending a wedding and in his mind gleefully criticizing everyone in sight, especially the newlywed couple – the marriage is surely bound to fail. The lyrics are probably not to be taken too seriously but the light-heartedness of the lyrics is also a perfect match for the happily sarcastic mood. The arrangement is fantastic: quite beatlesque, and it surely reminds of Jellyfish.

Also check out Irina Björklund's fantastic French-language chanson version of Häälaulu, Ton mariage.

Album: Moulaa! B-puolia ja harvinaisuuksia (b-side compilation 2001)

I wanted to include one actual cover song (not written by anyone in the band) because this one is simply so great. This Chicago song was originally performed with Finnish lyrics by Pepe Willberg in 1977.

What can I say? I can't resist music like this. In this version there is plenty of energetic mid-tempo power pop melancholy and awesome jangly guitars. Also, rarely has Egotrippi performed music as syrupy as this, which explains a lot of my fascination towards the band's take on the song. Egotrippi was mostly not known for romantic songs at this point. This version was recorded for b-side purposes and probably not many have heard it.

Album: Maailmanloppua odotellessa (2008)

Here we have another piano ballad written by Mikki Kauste. This slightly apocalyptical image of the future was inspired by current environmental issues and global warming. According to Kauste, this song is not at all political even though it practically brings the issue to our backyard. Political or not, the lyrics make it clear that our actions may someday result in some very concrete consequences. The situation begs the question: what kind of devastation does mankind have to face before we change our ways? What would convince you that something must be done before it is too late?

We once again hear some heavenly vocal harmonies. I enjoy the huge interval between the verse and the chorus. Mikki isn't afraid to use his falsetto.

Album: Helsinki-Hollola (2000)

It is kind of surprising that my #1 favorite Egotrippi song wasn't written by either of the band's main songwriters, Knipi or Mikki Kauste. Lennokki is always introduced as lead guitarist Skele's composition – it is the only one he has written for the band (that I know of). The lyrics are Mikki's handiwork and represent his poetic side at its best, truly serene and fascinating words, I think! The overall sound is big, and there is also a very emotional chorus and a dramatic guitar solo. Everything about this song is loveable. I just feel safe and peaceful listening to this.

7. Lydia
Album: Superego (1997)

Superego is certainly Egotrippi's funkiest album. Some of that funkiness is present even in this wistful song about lost love, or perhaps it is about unrequited love towards a woman who doesn't even exist. Despite being a rather sad song, the melody is also very uplifting. Lydia was released as a single and is favored by many fans but for some reason the band is unwilling to perform the song anymore.

8. Matkustaja 
Album: 20 Suosikkia (greatest hits, 2004)

Here we have Egotrippi's most popular and famous song. Originally left away from the album of the same name, Matkustaja was re-recorded for Egotrippi's greatest hits album 20 Suosikkia. The song indicated that Egotrippi had indeed taken a step from power pop towards folk rock. Matkustaja is very radio friendly and was played on Finnish radio more times than any other domestic song in 2004. When the song came out I went to buy the single – something I haven't done very many times... And I surely listened to it even though you could hear the song just anywhere and on almost any radio channel.

According to producer Lasse Kurki, Egotrippi was reluctant to include strings in their music at this time despite the fact that audiences surely embraced the end result. In fact, Matkustaja does sound fantastic also when performed live without the string arrangement. The acoustic version performed by composer Knipi on his tour with Matti Johannes Koivu makes me wonder if those certain small but extremely memorable melodic hooks sung by Mikki were even included in Knipi's original vision of the song.

Album: Pilvien alla, maan päällä (2013)

This song was changed in many ways when Egotrippi created their own version. Originally Knipi gave this to Jonna Tervomaa and it was released on her second album Neljä seinää in considerably slower tempo. The Egotrippi version has a whole different structure, it is more energetic and while it preserves the bittersweetness of the theme (a nasty break-up) I find Knipi's vocal rendition and the overall ambiance mysteriously hypnotic and comforting. The hypnotic effect even increases towards the end. Something really magical was captured in this version!

Album: Pilvien alla, maan päällä (2013)

Näkymätön is another song that was originally recorded by Jonna Tervomaa who also wrote the fantastic lyrics about feeling cut off from the outside world. The lyrics are really easy to relate to. Compared to the “original” version, Egotrippi's take is more grandiose. This song is a prime example of how some of Mikki's compositions end up sounding really dreamlike and in that way almost psychedelic – especially when they are arranged just right. Näkymätön is an incredible song, a true classic.

11. Onneton
Album: Matkustaja (2003)

Talk about hypnotic! This mostly acoustic song was recorded using only the things that could be found at producer Lasse Kurki's home. The result is lots of vocal echo, using a piano pedal and a Nick Drake vinyl box as percussion (!) and other cool things. This is another extremely bittersweet break-up song – maybe not even bittersweet, just plain bitter, as well as very dark and almost oppressive. A slower version of the song, released on the Matkustaja CD single (re-named Onnellinen, not to be confused with Mikki's solo song of the same name!), practically sounds like acoustic doom metal or something. Despite all, somehow I think Onneton is always really nice to listen to. Mikki's mesmerizing vocals are a huge part of the magic, and the arrangement surely is haunting!

Album: Alter Ego (1998)

Now, time for something lighter (maybe?). Even though Alter Ego was a relatively heavy album it had room for some tongue-in-cheek material as well. Poika kalpea is an extremely catchy, jangly song about a pale nerdy guy on the beach, accompanied by Beach Boys harmony vocals. Even though this sounds like a really happy song, the lyrics lead to a whole different conclusion. “Girls only smile at pretty guys – I could just blow up everything and go home!” I guess the tongue-in-cheek element here is quite superficial.

13. Rakkaani
Album: Vielä koittaa uusi aika (2006)

Many songs on Matkustaja album were really melancholic and sad, even though there surely were some happier moment as well. On the next album (Vielä koittaa uusi aika) Egotrippi decided to focus primarily on comforting sounds and themes. Rakkaani is a perfect example of this: a song about the beauty of a person offering emotional support to another person. I think the first comparison that comes to mind is surely You Still Believe in Me by the Beach Boys. These two songs share a similar melancholy while being extremely heartfelt and comforting.

14. Sininen 
Album: Matkustaja (2003)

This song was probably the first clear indication of Mikki Kauste's fascination towards the Slavic melancholy of schlager music. The arrangement sounds to me like a crossover between schlager and pop-rock. I think it does sound great even though producer Lasse Kurki has stated that this isn't the final mix he wanted to have released. Sininen is certainly one of Egotrippi's most dramatic songs, and I think Mikki's vocals are some of his best I have ever heard.

15. Sinä 
Album: Helsinki-Hollola (2000)

Representing the huge power pop guitar sounds of the Helsinki-Hollola album, Sinä is an absolutely exhilarating rocker written by Mikki Kauste. Sinä is a perfect opening song, clearly representing the sarcastic section of the album. I guess a lot of the fun emanates from the fact that we all know at least one person described in the lyrics – a really superficial person, that is. All in all, this is a superb song. The chord structure is amazing, the song structure is extremely well-built and there is, in fact, also clearly some melancholic schlager quality in the melody.

Album: Alter Ego (1998)

In my mind Egotrippi has never been very eager to write and sing wistful love songs but here we have one of the sort, written by Knipi. On the same album there were actually even a couple of other love songs as well, the most popular being Posteljooni (which I didn't pick for this list). Suklaasydän is my favorite because of the charming atmosphere. The song narrator mourns for lost love but is also happy to have collected such wonderful memories. This song is a real power ballad. You have to love the warm analogue sound the band was relying on at this time.

Album: Matkustaja (2003)

When I first heard this as a sensitive teenager, I thought this was really scary. Toisinaan does sound ghostly and gloomy but also uplifting. If I had to choose Egotrippi's gloomiest song, this would probably be it. However, there is much more to this song than gloominess. Toisinaan captures nothing less than one of life's biggest philosophical dilemmas. When you think about it, not too many years before the release of this song these guys were singing about Se on tosi jees. I bet no one saw this song coming.

I seem to favor many of Egotrippi's darkest, saddest songs. I do, because they are so good and memorable. This is of course not to say that gloominess is superior to joyfulness. I guess when it comes to Egotrippi I appreciate the opposites. Besides, I remember once hearing someone say that joy is one of the deepest human emotions, and that sounds quite plausible to me.

18. Yksinäisyys 
Album: Vielä koittaa uusi aika (2006)

You might say I didn't fully discover the beauty of this song until year 2013 even though I heard it already back in 2006. Now Yksinäisyys has become a huge favorite that I love to listen to for instance right before going to sleep, to give a peaceful feeling. Yksinäisyys is one of Egotrippi's most uplifting and comforting songs and it might also give your soul some peace.

19. Ympyrä
Album: Superego (1997)

Ympyrä was released years before Yksinäisyys but the spirit is actually very similar: peaceful, soothing, and a bit melancholic. Ympyrä is probably everyone's favorite because it is simply a magical song. You can't really describe it, you have to hear it. The song has a very nice guitar solo and a beautiful cello arrangement at the end.

Album: Matkustaja (2003)

This song is an obvious choice. Despite being partially very much influenced by a certain Procol Harum song, Älä koskaan ikinä is not only part of the Finnish pop classics repertoire but also still a really spellbinding song with its perfectly compressed power pop sound and catchy rhythm. The lyrics have been criticized for being silly but I think there is nothing wrong with being silly from time to time. It is indeed fascinating to think that even though the song sounds flowing and natural the recording process was extremely long and difficult.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Good Moment with Egotrippi

Egotrippi has been one of my favorite bands ever since I heard their hit song Älä koskaan ikinä back in 2003. I had obviously suddenly developed an ear for great power pop music because I liked the song so much that I decided to check out more of the band's music and soon ended up owning practically the entire back catalogue. In 2004 came Egotrippi's biggest hit Matkustaja and if the band wasn't a household name yet, now it surely had become one. Even though I really enjoyed the band's music, for ten whole years Egotrippi was in my personal experience usually overshadowed by other artists, especially by another Finnish group called Lemonator. For now it seems that things have changed.

In October 2013 I heard Egotrippi's new album Pilvien alla, maan päällä. It had been five years since the band's last album and even a couple years without any live gigs. While listening to the new album I soon noticed that the band's musical expression had risen to a whole new level. The album was the first one Egotrippi produced entirely themselves, celebrating the band's 20-year anniversary with their finest and most ethereal sounds yet.

The album in itself was a demonstration of the band's fantastic songwriting power. In addition to making Egotrippi albums, songwriters Knipi Stierncreutz and Mikki Kauste had over the years written and given more than 50 songs to other popular Finnish artists (also drummer Sampo Haapaniemi had written children's music). Pilvien alla, maan päällä was therefore Egotrippi's own way of looking back: instead of releasing a greatest hits album Egotrippi decided to record their own versions of some of the songs that had been given away years before.

At this moment, Egotrippi is in the process of writing and recording new material for the next album. Looking back to their 20-year career and music I myself have recently come to appreciate the band's always enthusiastic and sincere attitude to music more than ever. To cut a long story short, you could say that Egotrippi is active, always going forward, and therefore the most interesting thing this country has to offer to me.

Egotrippi does sing in Finnish language and therefore the band will probably never gain much popularity in other countries. Writing about the band in English might seem like a strange idea but I am not planning to start another blog just for Finnish-language artists. It is also very important to notice that even though Egotrippi sings in an incomprehensible language the band's music is very much a part of the Anglo-American pop-rock/power pop music tradition.

More about Egotrippi coming soon. Meanwhile, listen to a couple of the band's latest singles, Mestaripiirros and Hyvä hetki (above).

P.S. In case anyone is interested, there are actually some English translations of Egotrippi lyrics available. They are not very good but may offer some kind of help deciphering the music. YouTube is not of much help but I found one Finnish-English lyrics video.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

(Sweet?) Childhood Memories, Part Four

Now, to bring this late 1990s nostalgia trip to an end, it is time to talk a bit about Hanson. When it comes to appealing to Finnish children/teenagers in the late 1990s Finland, Hanson probably scored even more successful hits than the Spice Girls. This was caused by the fact that both boys and girls could relate to these young brothers. Hanson's smash hit MMMBop held the #1 place on a popular Finnish music video chart show Jyrki Countdown for months.

Even though I spent more time listening to the Spice Girls I was surely impressed by Hanson's international breakthrough album Middle of Nowhere (1997). Brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zak Hanson wrote all their own songs, some of which in collaboration with other people. On the album there were obviously really catchy hits (MMMBop and Where's the Love were big ones) but I remember the more melancholic songs as well. Yearbook was really haunting, and now that I listen to Weird again, all I can say is these guys wrote some amazingly soulful music! Taylor Hanson did most of the lead vocals, and his work was impressive already back then. In addition, I Will Come to You is still stunning - a real classic. 

It may be partially because of Hanson that I ended up preferring music played with actual rock band instruments to computer-programmed music. I haven't followed Zak, Taylor and Isaac's musical career much otherwise than Tinted Windows but I guess that is what happens. I loved these guys and I still do. However, in my personal experience Hanson was never quite as big as Spice Girls. In fact, probably the only reason Hanson weren't my #1 craze in the late 90s was that the Spice Girls were so huge.

In the early 2000s my whole musical focus moved from electronic dance pop to guitar-driven pop-rock music. The final breakthrough was year 2003 when I suddenly realized there was something irresistible about domestic artists such as Lemonator, Egotrippi, Jonna Tervomaa, and others. Next year I was already buying or borrowing CD's by Teenage Fanclub, the Posies, Jellyfish, Jason Falkner, Material Issue, Weezer, Supergrass and of course, the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson (SMiLE) and the Beatles. For some reason most of the music from the time of this big awakening had some kind of a connection to power pop, although I also appreciated other “alternative” contemporary music such as Radiohead and Muse (and I still do). The rest is, you might say, history.