Circle: No beginning and no end, and when you think you’ve come upon the conclusion you’re back at the start. Perhaps this describes Circle’s compositional work ethic more than anything. Circle is a west coast rock band, the west coast of Finland, that is. They live in a city called Pori, further north than the capital, Helsinki, and Stockholm, Sweden to the east. With a large student population, and its own jazz festival, Pori also is home to Finland’s most visible underground rock band, Circle.
Their latest in a long line of innovative recordings, Hollywood, lists them as a “new exciting band from Finland.” To most people, this is true enough, but to those paying attention, Circle has been making some of the most original modern rock music since the beginning of the ‘90s. Formed by bassist/guitarist/vocalist/creative wildman Jussi Lehtisalo, the group has been on an endless journey of musical exploration since they began. Besides being consummate players, the band are avid music collectors and enthusiasts; hence, Circle music and records have many stylistic touchstones, most notably Krautrock, artrock, avant garde, prog, and cinematic post rock. Just when you think you’re getting a handle on them, though, you see they also have a deep love of heavy metal, particularly from the 1980s, all manner of punk rock, as well as Velvet-style droning and even country and folk music. (Their love of metal forged their now infamous tagline-NWOFHM. Get it?) Some have called them Finland’s mighty masters of metallic hypno drone rock. Whew!
In the USA, San Francisco-based record retailer Aquarius was one of the first to champion the band. They have noted: “We’d always wondered why they weren’t the latest post-rock big thing…well maybe it’s ’cause they’re so dang weird! Which, of course, we like. Bands that sing in their own made-up languages (a la Magma) and do other unashamedly “prog rock” and sometime metal things too are definitely cool with us. But does that get them signed to Thrill Jockey or Matador? No. Not yet anyway.”
Well, yeah, not yet, but fortunately for us there is the band’s own label, Ektro, run by Circle ringmaster Lehtisalo. It’s through Ektro (distributed by Southern in the US) that Hollywood will be released early in 2009. This hour-long album takes Circle fans on a different trip yet again. Back up a few years when Lehtisalo tracked down L.A. musician/producer Bruce Duff via the internet. Duff was the frontman of ‘alternative metal’ band Jesters of Destiny, who in the mid-to-late ‘80s were signed to Metal Blade Records. Lehtisalo arranged through Duff to release an expanded version of Jesters of Destiny’s album Fun at the Funeral on Ektro. An email friendship followed, and soon enough Circle and Duff were exchanging DVD files across thousands of miles of oceans and began collaborating on recordings.
The first music to arise from this joint venture was an EP on Philly-based label No Quarter, entitled Earthworm. As reviewed in Collective Zine, “Whoa. Shooting out the traps in totally manic mode, bass and drums locked down in their inexorable search for the ultimate groove whilst a raft of guitars and keyboards jazz away over the top. Actually, even they’re in some way locked in to the relentless forward momentum Circle’s rocket-powered Can worship summons up, and that’s all before the vocals kick in. Simple and clear, endlessly melodious over the pleasing cacophony wailing away beneath. And that’s just for openers.”
Off to a good start, the Trans-Atlantic team carried on with the goal of finishing a full-long player, and that’s Hollywood. Named for Duff’s hometown, will this L.A. meets Pori pairing play in Peoria? For starters, the band that has been known for lyrics created in their own made-up language (known as Meronian) ala Magma or Sigor Ros. Wiseass Duff chose to reduce everything to its lowest common denominator, otherwise known as English. The weighty, lengthy songs cover terrain from the Roundhouse to the Appalachians, and the eight songs also include a three-movement Requiem in all of its unashamed, unabashed prog rock glory and pretense.
As has always been the case, Circle has presented itself yet again as being unwilling or unable to sit still or to be predictable, but their desire to present the best work possible is always a part of their program. As if in a screening room, dim the lights, hit the projector, and take in Hollywood.
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