Recent Circle and Related Band Releases

From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)

Rounding out our profile of bands from Finland are reviews of several new releases from Circle and the offshoot bands Ektroverde and Lehtisalofamily. The AI staff highly recommends Circle as their music has established its own stylistic niche in the SpaceRock universe. The four CD's we review are:

Circle - "Kollekt"
Circle - "Surface & Marble Sheep - Marble Zone 2"
Lehtisalofamily - "Interplay"
Ektroverde - "Pingvin"

Circle - "Kollekt" (Bad Vugum 1998, BAD-74CD)

Finland's Circle has become something of a favorite here at AI. Though clearly a gem for spacerock fans, their music is, nonetheless, difficult to define and the band really has a sound all it's own. The music on their last three Metamorphos label CD's (Hissi, Fraten, and Pori) venture into the darkest unexplored black hole regions of the universe to produce some truly cosmically challenging music.

Kollekt ventures into the early Circle archives to give more recent fans a glimpse into the bands' early 90's roots. The CD includes their first three 7" releases: DNA ('91), Point ('92), and Silver ('93). We're also treated to five bonus tracks from '92-'94, though I don't know if these are unreleased or not.

The early Circle surprised me as seriously aggressive music. I want to use the term hardcore but must emphasize that it's not in the standard punk rock sense. And while the music is different, the Circle trademark of establishing a somewhat minimalist repeating rhythm and/or melody is already in evidence. The liner notes are unclear but it looks like Circle was a 3-piece on the first two EP's, becoming a 4-piece on the third, and only expanding the lineup in '94.

I don't know if the DNA and Point EP's are really a guitar, bass, drums power trio because I'm sure I hear two guitars. Whatever the case, this is phenomenally energetic music. The rhythm guitar crashes incessantly, the drums maintain a maddening pace, but the vocals, though not prominent, are eerie like chanting ghosts. This, however, changes dramatically on the song "Fone" (from Point). The vocals are downright frightening, like a male mixture of Diamanda Galas and Jarboe. And the music on this track is so manic that I could barely keep up. "Depoint" gives a glimpse into the more cosmic music that would come in subsequent years. Metallic music and the ghostly vocals are accompanied by frantically freaky guitar work. The vocals become more prominent on the Silver EP and get a lot weirder, though the ethereal chanting is still present as well. Keyboards have been added at this point and the song "Circus" even has a new wavish feel to it.

The bonus tracks are similar to the EP's. One of my favorites is "Armond" which ventures into Chrome territory, but totally out energizes that band for pure sonic aural onslaught. "Hypto", at almost nine minutes is the longest track on this set, and is another example of the space elements that Circle would soon incorporate into their music. The band lays down a driving guitar crunching beat around which freaked out psych guitar roams and explores. It's a wild combination of aggression and floating lava lamp spacerock.

If you are new to Circle then start with Hissi, Fraten, or Pori. But if you're a Circle veteran than this collection of early tracks is an absolute must have.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Circle - "Surface & Marble Sheep - Marble Zone 2" (joint CD) 1998 Metamorphos (FI) (Meta 023-CD) or Captain Trip (JP) (CTCD-072)

Well, this is pretty much a "can't miss" item for me, seeing as I own near-complete collections of each of these two artists. Marble Sheep is the older band, having formed either out of, or along side, White Heaven in Japan; both entities responsible for the same sort of crazed, winding psychedelic jam rock. Ken Matsutani, guitarist/vocalist/leader of Marble Sheep (who also just happens to run the Captain Trip label), apparently had these live recordings from 1989 laying around waiting to be resurrected. Of the three that are compiled here simply as 'Marble Zone 2' (no individual titles), two are live tracks and one is a studio demo. All three are extended duel guitar freakouts, recalling early Guru Guru. Unlike the later Marble Sheep jam style which owes more to the Grateful Dead, these ones are more like the very first albums (e.g., "Old from New Heads"), though original lead guitarist Michio Kurihara had left by this time.

Circle's tracks, on the other hand, are recordings from their March, 1996 concert in Tampere, Finland nearby their native Pori. In the three years since this show, the band has been quite prolific, so the eight tracks presented here seem to represent their 'earlier' material. The intro, "I Saw the Light" (an unfamiliar title), has a strong Neu!/Cluster flavor to it, and English lyrics (for a change) sung by Jussi Lehtisalo (or is it Teemu Elo?). Circle then segues straight into the opening 1-2 punch from the album 'Zopalki'; "Brilliant Colours for Bright Ideas" is one of the darkest and scariest tunes I've ever come across, but in a more subtle and hypnotic way than you might think. The live version doesn't quite capture the effect the studio recording does, but it's a perfect lead in to an awesome rendering of "Valerian," which here surpasses the effectiveness of the original. Blazing guitars, spooky synth-swirls, and gothic vocals in the eerie Finnish language...makes your hair stand on end. "Re-masturbated" then kicks in with a choppy rhythm, and slowly builds in dissonance towards a disorienting miasma of sonic imagery. "Sprinkler" is another tune that recalls a foggy night in a dark alley depicted only in black and white, punctuated with the regimented hollow-snare drumming of J. Ahtiainen. Two of their oldest tunes "Meronia" and "DNA" round out the Circle portion of the disc in their heavier industrial style.

OK, I'm sold... Circle is presently the most inventive band in the genre of... well, I don't know exactly... gothic/industrial/psychedelic/space/krautrock I guess. No, let's say "most inventive band," period. Their music is truly so original that it really needs it's own name. (I ain't gonna call it 'Finnrock' though.) This live work demonstrates that they can deliver the goods on stage, though I'd be afraid they'd creep me out if I heard them in person. The Marble Sheep material is nice to have archived here also, and is a convenient way of discovering their early style without having to track down their other rare 80's recordings. "Psychedelic Paradise Live," a live recording from 1994, is a fine example of their later S.F.-jam style and is recommended as an additional item to track down.

Reviewed by Keith Henderson

Lehtisalofamily - "Interplay" (1998, EKTRO-003)

Another Circle side project is Lehtisalofamily, which is just that... it's Jussi Lehtisalo and two members of his family on guitars, bass, keyboards, and theremin, plus contributions from various Circle and Ektroverde members on guitar, saxophone, drums, and effects.

What Lehtisalofamily shares with Circle is the habit of laying down repeating patterns that remain prominent while the music develops around them. This is actually pretty spacey music, though the Circle influences abound. In fact, what makes this particularly interesting to me is the abundance of very freak spacey synth work along with Rock In Opposition styled guitar and percussion work on some tunes.

Some of the standout tracks include: The cosmic "Mallorra" sets the tone with a simplistic bass and drum pattern, but is made into a fuller work by the exploratory synths and acid guitar. "Safety Valve" is a spooky electronic piece that this time sets the trademark repeating pattern with an emotionless bleeping synth. But around this we have subtle Twilight Zone freakiness with a bit of an Indian feel. One synth sounds like a snake charmer in space. There's actually quite a bit happening here though each instrument occupies such an individual spot, the song as a whole sounds more simplistic than it really is. "Karmida" is similar electronically but has a more composed and controlled feel. There is a vibrating synth that fades in and out along with other carefully place electronic patterns. A series of stringed and percussion instruments are banged and clanged throughout the song. The short "Paasta Ku Kontista" is like continuation of "Karmida" though we have a Fred Frith/Henry Kaiser sounding guitar at the forefront. "Aija" has even more of a spaced out RIO sound with clanging guitars and percussion along with bubbling shooting synths. And "Cosmic Baseball" is an excellent closing number as a saxophone jams away to the a wall of floating electronica.

Overall, Lehtisalofamily has produced some very interesting music here. It is unique in that the music is highly cosmic but not in a standard rock or psychedelic manner. It is exploratory, but in a more composed rather than jamming way. Like Circle, it's just different.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Ektroverde - "Pingvin" (1998, EKTRO-004CD)

Yet another Circle offshoot band is Ektroverde. On Pingvin there are 8 studio tracks, two of which were apparently intended as a 7" release, and four tracks recorded live in Tavastia. Ektroverde's music is best described as melodic space fusion. The instrumentation is quiet, but busy. Everything moves along at a steady pace with the guitars sometimes taking the lead role and at other times the piano, but at all times playing cool melodic space fusion. The astral keyboard work combines with the jazzy feel of the music to make for an interesting mix that surprisingly seems to fit the music rather than oddly contrast with it. Miles Davis meets Hawkwind?

Things don't really pick up until the sixth track, "Fish", where we get into the spacey fusion territory that defines the remaining tracks. There is some great standard jazz piano work and drumming made all the more engaging by the intermittent space synths. Not surprisingly, the live tracks are among the best. I really liked "Messerschmitt", an easy going beat-jazzy tune with nice electric piano work and cosmic electronics. "Vostok 2" strays into somewhat different territory laying down a more standard Circle repeating bass and drum pattern and introducing even more cosmic synths and even vocals. The Ektroverde sound is maintained though with the electric piano jazz-jamming away the whole time. The other live tracks, "Crescent" and "T-Ford", continue this cosmic foray into finger snapping lounge fusion. From the "almost released" Talvena 7", "Lumikko" is a the great percussion heavy tune that has a bit of a Sun Ra feel to it and is one of my favorites.

Ektroverde further illustrates the varied interests and versatility of the Circle folks. It's also the least aggressive music I've heard from the Circle camp and represents an interesting twist on the standard jazz sound.

Click here to visit the very informative web page covering both Circle and related band Ektroverde. Click here to visit the more official page run by band leader Jussi Lehtisalo.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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