I was almost fooled by the artist moniker. I’d already started writing that I’d never heard of an artist calling himself after a capital city then I saw the extra letter and my mind wandered off towards whether or not there is an ulterior motive for that. Insinuations on the darker side of Helsinki life by wordplay, as with ‘Californication?’ Some Russian connection? After all Nightwish’s first (shadow) live performance for two and a half years back in July was as ‘Nevski and the Prospekts’; almost the St Petersburg thoroughfare.
Helsinski is Juho Vehmanen, a veteran performer and producer on the Finnish scene for over a decade, as a solo artist, musician, collaborator, and member of several chart topping pop acts.
He’s something of a genre-bender, historically mixing funk, disco and cinematic soundscapes and is a skilled producer to boot, with his own recording studio.
‘Waves of Pain’ is an austere album for the most part, released on 12th November, which “explores the dark sides of modern society and romance.” It seems he’s been making it for years, other albums having been released while it remained a work-in-progress.
There is an advisory to the effect that it and he shape shifts from alt-pop to glitchy electronica and hip-hop and that observation couldn’t be more accurate. There’s a great deal of variety here.
Indeed, the track ‘Shadow of a Dream’ mixes hip-hop and pop in one song, from verse to chorus. Several tracks, such as ‘Back & Forth’ and ‘Love cuts deep’ have an 80s feel, the latter channelling the erudite new wave of Depeche Mode. ‘Firecracker’ opens with violins and a distinct Gaelic impression then develops an oriental style before gravitating into a hoedown while ‘Teach me How to Dance’ verges on a reggae beat and hosts a Caribbean flavour throughout and ‘Come Alive’ challenges with IDM/House in the chorus.
And ‘Don’t open the curtains’ could be the dystopian, ‘1984’-like sequel to Elbow’s ‘One Day like This’ which advocated “throw those curtains wide” to celebrate an annual release from celibacy. In Helsinski they’re staying firmly closed.
Easy listening it ain’t.
Selecting a sample track wasn’t a simple task. I did consider the short instrumental opener, simply entitled ‘Intro’. I’m a sucker for those ever since I first heard M83’s ‘Outro’ and this one is impressively moody. And as a bonus the underlying synth melody is remarkably similar to that of Weyes Blood’s marvellous ‘Movies’.
But ultimately I had to go for ‘Edging’, a fascinating amalgam of anthemic pop and alt-rock (possibly with a dash of prog thrown in) and flavoured with hip-hop. The final minute is Arcade Fire meets The Jimi Hendrix Experience if you can imagine such a thing. The inclusion of the album title in the lyrics adds to its significance.
It’s one of those songs you just know you have to see performed live.
Find him on: