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Modern Feelings
Modern Feelings Dustin Krcatovich , November 3rd, 2014 14:20

Nothing beats a good joke, a maxim which holds doubly true in experimental music. Contrary to the belief that that corner of the world is a staunchly humorless place, a little digging reveals much of the canon to be a total gag. Anyone who can observe a performance of John Cage's Songbooks without stifling a chuckle has zero ear for absurdity (never mind of his infamous piece/gag, 4'33"), and pieces like Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing and Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In A Room, approached with a light heart, are as funny as they are thought-provoking.

Humour has been an especially essential component in Finland's vernacular and academic experimental music since at least the 1960s. Back then, people like The Sperm and M.A. Numminen engaged in unhinged performances and recordings that surely scandalised the rubes, and the scant documents of this period still pack plenty of goofy oomph. This tradition of bizarre absurdist spectacle has been kept alive in more recent years by the patronage of homegrown labels like Bad Vugum and Lal Lal Lal. I've never gone on holiday in Finland, but from this end it seems like these kind of shenanigans are almost a form of folk music at this point, as representative of Finnish music and culture as Sibelius.

This eponymous LP by Modern Feelings brings together four generations of wonderful Finnish avant-weirdos, all in the name of (basically) a joke. Pekka Airaksinen was founder and primary member of the aforementioned Sperm; Anton Nikkilä is best known for his work with the Russian experimental musician Alexei Borisov in the mid-1990s; Samuli Tanner (aka Ponytail/World Bank) has done work in punk, dubstep and electronic/noise music; and Henri Nikkilä, who recently replaced founding member (and current Hopeajärvi bassist) Ari Salonen, started young dipping his toes into the jazz world. In keeping with Finnish humor, the central conceit of the group is that their studied-but-careening free improv moves be framed and inspired by time-stretched, unrecognisable samples of easy listening and smooth jazz.

All in all, it's a fun listen. All the members are energetic improvisers, the recording is crisp and clear, and there's a drive on some of the tracks that compares favorably to Trout Mask Replica, Sonny Sharrock, Cecil Taylor, and the like, and that ain't no shame. Still, I can't help but feel like Modern Feelings doesn't quite live up to its concept. It's often hard to tell where the samples end and the live instrumentation begins; I'm not sure if this is a testament to the group's unity, or a concerted effort to skirt being a novelty/concept group, but it's a bit of a letdown after hearing it described.

Any fans of modern improv (and I generally count myself among those) will surely get a kick out of Modern Feelings. Still, while it hardly falls flat, it does fall somewhat short of expectations.