REVIEW: Jaakko Eino Kalevi

Kelly Kirwan

There’s a pattern shared among many artists as they start their careers. They occupy the outskirts of the mainstream, developing ideas and observations until their work sparks a following. Then comes the switch, from overlooked to revered, and suddenly they're seen as pushing the very boundaries they once idled beside.

It’s a story Jaakko Eino Kalevi is at least somewhat familiar with; having worked as a tram driver in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, scribbling down thoughts and lyrics in a kind of driving-induced fugue state throughout the day.  Then in 2013, his EP Dreamzone broke through, establishing Kalevi as a talented multi-instrumentalist to put on the watch list. After that he relocated to Berlin, a kind of haven for the artistically eccentric and eclectic (not to mention the electronically-inclined), and just recently dropped a self-titled titled LP under the Weird World umbrella.

The reason Jaako Eino Kalevi gravitated towards an eponymous album is twofold: this record will likely introduce him to a wider audience, and too often is his name misspelled or butchered in pronunciation. Perhaps that’s why the first track off the album was given his initials “JEK,” with a repetitive chant-like chorus of his name to sink in for listeners, right off the bat.

Kalevi has a kind of bored, baritone delivery that reminds me of the ennui that so often affected alternative rock of the 90s. He alternates between speaking in Finnish and singing in English, a pattern he admits was unintentional but perhaps a result of moving abroad—“you bring out more of your national features.” For this LP, Kalevi took a hiatus from Berlin for a taste of New York’s own avant-garde indie scene in Brooklyn. There, he collaborated with producer/mixer Nicholas Vernhes, whose past credits include The War on Drugs, Dirty Projectors, and Deerhunter (to name a few). While their joint efforts may not have been completely simpatico, the duo managed to create a textured, percussion-laden album whose tracks cover a wide range yet still feel like a connected ensemble.

In fact, this was one of Kalevi’s requirements, admitting to The Quietus that he wanted the album “to have a feeling that it could have been made in one session…like a band record.” As Kalevi is essentially a one-man band he was able to pull this off, playing all the drums acoustically to add to the “one session” feel.

Tracks that particularly stand out are the funky synths of “Say,” whose beats are impossible not to move to—even if it takes a minute to realize the lyrics are a bit dark (“They say that you rot and shatter…”). Then there’s the upbeat “Hush Down,” with Suad Khalifa’s soft vocals acting as a sweet accompaniment to Kalevi’s straight-faced delivery (she also makes an appearance on “Double Talk,” “Deeper Shadows,” and “Room”). In all, Kalevi’s newest album is a far-ranging, electronic-influenced entity, with foot-tapping beats and pensive lyrics. And perhaps most importantly, it seems that he's accomplished exactly what he set out to do: make us remember his name.