Jaani Peuhu is one of Finland’s most respect musicians as the singer and songwriter of electronic darkwave act, Iconcrash. Metal fans will know him as the man who provided the electronics and backing vocals on Swallow the Sun’s 2019 album. Those of you that grew up watching MTV2 in the pre-YouTube era will be surprised to learn that Peuhu co-wrote Finland’s 2009 Eurovision entry with the guitarist from The Rasmus. He also launched a successful solo career in his home country with 2015’s Tear Catcher album. What could a man of such diverse talents and tastes offer on his collective solo project with guest contributions from members and collaborators of Sisters of Mercy, Client, Him, Lord of the Lost and even Massive Attack?
Most publicists find it easier to call IANAI genre-free, which is something we would normally reserve for a Mike Patton project. The easiest way to approach Sunir is to imagine you’re at a Dead Can Dance concert in the Finnish snow with support from a Disney-sponsored troupe of touring musicians from the live rendition of The Lion King. Or perhaps alternative folk music is more accurate. The cellos and mellifluous folk guitars of opener, ‘Savoj Icoil’, will cascade through your ears like snowflakes touching your skin with their paradoxical warmth. Would this song be as effective without the tribal percussion and the sparkle of the acoustic string resonance? The colourful Sigur Ros harmonies of the chorus suggest that Peuhu needs little else to strike you down in awe. You can see snow and rainbows, but your eye can also discern grey oceans and windswept fields bereft of crops.
The pathos of Peuhu’s voice should keep you engaged with the music, even if you feel like you’ve stumbled into a WOMAD festival curated by Peter Gabriel. Confucian flutes and hypnotic percussions illuminate ‘Elitha’ like a swarm of synchronous fireflies. The pseudo-Arabian strum of ‘Manda Navaja’ mixes the scent of wet sand and the drone of a boat horn with an aggressive drum pattern reminiscent of ‘The Beautiful People’ by Marilyn Manson. UNICEF or Greenpeace should ask Peuhu for permission to use it in their next awareness campaign about the existential threat of climate change to the polar bear population of the Arctic.
You’ll feel like you achieved your goal of passing through your childhood wardrobe and into Narnia on more than one occasion. ‘Anaia’ would not disappoint as the centre piece of the next Björk album. Peuhu could excel if commissioned to write the soundtrack for the next Avatar film, which raises an interesting question – is this music uplifting, transcendental or vertiginous?
One hour and nine minutes of effulgent folk music steeped in the emotive drama of Disney is not an easy listen. But it should be. Peuhu wants you to swoon at the overpowering colour of his melodies, and you will give in on ‘Vasariah’ with the same alacrity as you would to a Cocteau Twins song. Who cares about the language or the meaning of the words? This is the music of angels. No matter how introspective the mood, you can always spot a glistening melody to increase your optimism. This is the main strength of Sunir. You’ll forgive the long running time of the album when the crystal-clear air and invigorating snow scent caress your nostrils without need for a tissue. Only on closing track, ‘Samovela’, will you sigh and fantasise about sitting in front of the fire with fondu. After all, this frost pinches. It’s not as enjoyable after an hour.
Sunir is a fascinating listen that leaves you jaded and grateful at the same time. The introduction of a more orthodox European symphony of brass and multi-harmony vocals on ‘Akrar Adi’re’ and ‘Incheronia’ change the scene somewhat, yet the pangs of sadness that come with vacating a dream world do not spoil your experience. It should be an arduous affair, but the debut IANAI album is a triumph of imagination. Whether you can justify seventy minutes of your time for repeat listens is a separate question.
Release Date: 10/06/2022
Record Label: Svart Records
Standout tracks: Savoj Icoil, Vasariah, Incheronia
Suggested Further Listening: Sigur Ros – Ágætis byrjun (2001), Dead Can Dance – Anastasis (2012), Heilung – Futha (2019)