Finland's Islaja (aka Merja Kokkonen) debuted in impressive fashion last year with her brilliant album, "Meritie" (also on the Fonal imprint). The magic and beauty that transcended that album's simple grace left me feeling completely satiated, but at the same time longing for more. Luckily, Islaja is already back with her second album, "Palaa Aurinkoon." The bright light of the forest realm is replaced by dark and misty clouds on "Palaa Aurinkoon," but it is still bathing in some kind of mystical haze.
Islaja seems more comfortable in her skin and with her voice on her new record. It's like she found her way back through time, to a more primative era where she belongs. "Palaa Aurinkoon" is an ancient spirit, brought back to life by Islaja's old soul. On the title track, makeshift drumbeats underline this feeling. Whimsical keyboard (or melodica) notes flutter above this rollicking foundation, like prehistoric birds dancing with the clouds in the sky. Her voice acts the sun, the all-knowing sage showing the feathered beasts the way home. It's a seemingly sad tale that manages to have a happy ending. These conflicting emotions play out all through "Palaa Aurinkoon," and Islaja's storytelling abilities transcend language itself.
From beginning to end, "Palaa Aurinkoon" tops it's predecessor in every way. This is not to discount "Meritie"; I've made my love for that album quite known. It is, however, a testament to "Palaa Aurinkoon's" greatness. There are times, such as the hypnotic "Sateen Tullessa," where Kokkenen is channelling Fursaxa's Tara Burke. Over a basketweave of organ drones, Islaja's vocals are the voices of Finland's ghosts. Understated emotional outpourings like this are quite moving, and Kokkenen's austere sincerity cannot be questioned. Not only can you hear it in her voice, you can feel it in the music. It's beautiful.
"Palaa Aurinkoon" is best represented, though, but the simple and affecting, "Haaveilija." With it's fractured acoustic disposition and and gentle piano notes, this song swirls in your head until completely wrapping you within its soft, endearing tendrils. There's a optimistic simplicity in each strained chord of this piece - like someone searching for a better life. By the time Kokkenen starts singing on the second half of the song, there's no use fighting it. This song will infect you. The doubled chorus vocals with Kokkenen repeating "Haaveilija" over and over are sweet perfection. It's enchanted moments like these that most artists only dream of producing.
Everything about "Palaa Aurinkoon" shows Islaja's progression as a musican and songwriter. This is a beautiful record. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (16 June, 2005)