Pori is much more than just the fifth studio album by the Finnish experimental-rock institution Circle. It’s also the name of a small post-industrial city near the Gulf of Bothnia, where Jussi Lehtisalo founded the group in 1991. In some senses, the music mirrors the character of the metropolis itself: tranquil, historic, and slightly monotonous but belied by grit, weirdness, and surprising artistic fertility.
When it initially appeared on the Metamorphos label in 1998, Pori represented the pinnacle of the band’s relatively subdued and polite mid-’90s output, summarizing and improving upon several years of dalliances with prog, electronic, and ambient aesthetics. For this conceptual suite of tracks titled for hometown monuments and events, Circle fused the aforementioned genres and sporadically jolted them with the higher voltage of its earliest efforts. Nowhere is this clearer than on the jackhammering, one-chord “Back to Pori,” powered by Lehtisalo’s Gregorian vocals and Janne Peltomäki’s immense, stuttering drums. Completely contrasting that, chamber pieces recorded inside Keski-Porin Kirkko, a nineteenth-century stone church, barely rise above a reverent whisper. From an instrumental standpoint, these sessions symbolized a finale of sorts; following their conclusion, bassist Tomi Harrivaara left the fold, Lehtisalo ceased playing guitar, and percussionist Ville Raitio subsequently withdrew. Yet Pori inaugurated a kind of rebirth, too; licensed abroad to Feldspar, an imprint affiliated with New York’s Knitting Factory club, it marked Circle’s full-length American debut and helped spawn the first of many U.S. tours.
Amazingly enough, this pivotal work has remained unavailable for at least a decade. Continuing with its gradual reissue campaign of Circle’s catalog, Ektro has given these compositions a second life on vinyl with the addition of superb bonus material. So regardless of whether you’re a total neophyte or an erudite curmudgeon, now is the time to do like the song says and go back—all the way back to Pori.
Jordan N. Mamone, New York City
August 31, 2015
1. Perustamisasiakirja 8.3.1558 (3:41)
2. Vesitorni / Kaupunginsairaala (8:07)
3. Back to Pori (4:58)
4. Suurpalo (2:09)
5. Kartano (7:23)
6. Promenaadikeskus (7:27)
7. Kruunu Päähä Pori Kuningas (9:03)
8. Seisomakatsomo (2:46)
9. Karhun Kansaa 1. (5:45)
10. Yyteri*** (5:06)
11. Porin Jazzjuhlat -65 (13:57)