Nalle (Finnish for ‘little bear’) are a Glasgow based avant-folk trio led by Anglo-Finn Hanna Tuulikki. The Siren’s Wave is their second album, following on from 2006’s By Chance Upon Waking. Using a bewildering array of instrumentation, ranging from analogue Moogs and oscillators to bouzouki, harmonium, clarinet and viola, they craft loose, drone and raga based elemental folk music. This is not the sort of stuff you’ll hear in an upstairs room at a rural pub on a Tuesday night – certainly not in this form.
The Siren’s Wave consists of six lengthy pieces, dominated by Tuulikki’s, by turn angelic and rasping, voice. Tracks unfurl slowly, and the instrumentation can be doggedly out there at times, with an accordion drone, some seemingly random plucks of the dulcimer, and melodies that form and then disappear. It can sound unsettling and chaotic – almost anti-music – but then suddenly flower into something gorgeous. Sometimes it seems that it is only the viola of the One Ensemble’s Aby Vulliamy and the bouzouki of Chris Hladowski that keeps it from floating off into the ether.
The first three tracks are particularly challenging, and suffer a little from a lack of variation in pace and structure. The second half of the record is more grounded and eclectic. “Secret of the Seven Sirens” is equipped with a melody you can whistle and some fine ensemble singing (a strong suit of the group’s which is underused in the first half of the album), and even breaks into what sounds like a Balkan dance midway through. “Alice’s Ladder” is a fragile little thing that leads into the final track “First Eden Sank to Grief”, which features some marvellous polyphonic chanting from the trio. It’s a beautiful end to an album that can be a bit frustrating at times. If all the tracks were as good as the final three, then The Siren’s Wave would be something very special indeed.
1 Nothing Gold Can Stay 5:10
2 Young Light 8:11
3 Voi Ruusuni (A Rose) 10:31
4 Secret of the Seven Sirens 10:18
5 Alice’s Ladder 3:31
6 First Eden Sank to Grief 6:32