Thursday, July 18, 2013
One couldn't possibly do justice to the long-running Finnish band, Circle, in a mere blog post. Their career, their discography, their stylistic changes are all too abundant and too manifold to be adequately summed up in anything less than a book. As for whether you'd care to read this hypothetical book is up to you, so for now - here's a fucking blog - and I'm going to briefly write about the band Circle...
Circle is, was and forever shall be one man - Jussi Lehtisalo - and any configuration of players around him. He also runs the Ektro label, which is where our 'friendship' began. Well, to be honest, I barely know the guy at all, but over the last few years we have traded product with each other - he gets Lexicon Devil, I get Ektro (did I have to explain that?); he sells my stuff via mailorder, I, err, sit on a bunch of cool Ektro stuff I can't seem to offload - and I have amassed quite a stockpile of Circle CDs. Most are on his Ektro label, some are titles licensed out to North American imprints such as No Quarter and Scratch. At this stage, the band has over 40 albums to their credit, stretching roughly 20 years. Their release schedule the past half-decade, both new and reissues, would send a diehard fan to the poorhouse. I first heard about 'em back in the early '90s when Ajax would list their early 7"s on the Bad Vugum label. BV doesn't exist anymore, though it was a pretty hot imprint for a few years back in the day, licensing out releases to Sympathy (a 7" comp'), Drag City (the Fall-ish Liimanarina) and Alternative Tentacles (Radiopuhelimet, who grinded out a thug-ish, Am Rep-style man-rock), and ganing a rep as thee label to watch out for in the Finnish hinterlands. To be honest, between the mid '90s and the mid '00s - when the band Circle released a slew of discs - they were completely off my radar. I think they were off many people's radar, although the band started gaining a rep once their discs started seeing domestic release in the US, as well as some heavy-handed spruiking from the likes of Andee from Aquarius Records in SF (when he talks, we listen).
Friends of mine started cottoning onto their wares, hailing them as the great metal/kraut band of its era - I guess someone has to be - and by coincidence, Jussi contacted me a few years ago about a trade. As it stands, I've got a stack of Circle CDs 15 titles thick, as well as other goodies on the label by Pharoah Overlord (doomy side project from the man), '80s NYC noiseniks, Rat At Rat R, old DC band, Mission For Christ (great '80s fuck-you anti-punk punk, not unlike No Trend, whom they were linked to), Faust and various unpronouncable experimental types from the Land of Fin. In short, it's a fascinating label well worth dipping your toes into.
That brings me to Circle. Any band with that many releases is bound to have some turkeys, and that they do. But that's OK, because any artist truly throwing their creative weight around is bound to dredge up some shit on occasion and present it to the public. Not that Jussi and Circle have anything to do w/ the likes of Neil Young or Bob Dylan aesthetically (or regarding cultural influence... but did I need to point that out?), but I've always said that the turkeys said artists have foistered onto the world in their long and productive careers are entirely forgivable, because in the context of their long, strange, brilliant and occasionally awful careers, it all makes sense. You might not listen to Saved or Are You Passionate?, like, more than once in this lifetime, but it shows they took a gamble and failed. And then you put on the good records. Circle are a little bit like that. Their straighter rock/metal records do zip for me, even when they churn it out w/ a Neu!/boogie beat, but besides such platters, there's a slew of recordings by Circle worth time & trouble.
Two of my faves also happen to be the most atypical, if there can be such a thing: first up is Forest from 2004, which was licensed the following year to No Quarter in the US. There's four tracks, they're long-ish (from 6 to 17 minutes), and they show the band at their most kraut-damaged. The term 'kraut-damage' doesn't hold the weight it once did, say, 20 years ago, because now everyone claims to be damaged by the krauts, but when such blatant ripping of the kraut heritage is pulled w/ such aplomb, it carries some weight to me. Got it? Think Can. Think Popol Vuh. Think Faust. Think the bongo fury of Amon Duul 1. In other words, think krauts. I've been playing it on repeat the past week - rediscovering the pile of Circle CDs sitting in the spare room - and it's got me hooked. It's pure homage, and it's done to a tee. It's perfection. For me, with almost half of their catalogue under the roof, I'd say that this is the place to start.
Up next is this one, possibly their most peculiar effort: 2006's 2CD set, Miljard. It shows a completely different side of the group: piano, bass, drums. Some of it sounds a lot like the Necks (not a bad thing, in this or any other, alternate reality), especially when there is a beat to speak of, and when there is no rhythm present, pure piano ambience barely stitched together as 'song', I'm thinking the music of Budd and Eno (esp. The Pearl), but none of this is news, because everyone who's ever laid claim to reviewing Miljard has said exactly the same thing. At nearly 2 hours long, it may seem a stretch, although I have, on quite a number of occasions, listened to both discs back to back. It is, regardless of context, a musical effort one can actually play, as opposed to filing away.
There are other Circle discs, off the top of my head, which float a boat in my respective neighbourhood: 2007's Panic, a mixture of electronic ambience and scuzzy punk which wavers between Drunk With Guns scum-noise and semi-crust; and 2005's Tulikoira, one which mixes metronomic beats w/ speed metal and riff-rock. It's a good 'un. And there are other good 'uns, too, though I'm merely giving the spiel on my fave two.
As luck would have it, the latest issue of The Wire mag (yes, as noted recently, I have, after a very long break, started perusing its pages on a regular basis) has an 'Invisible Jukebox' w/ Circle mastermind Jussi Lehtisalo, and in another ridiculous move in a thoroughly ridiculous non-career in music, he has 'leased' the name 'Circle' out to some metal musos, and will be taking the name back later in the year. In the meantime, his band - Circle, that is - will record under the name 'Falcon'. Or some shit. Circle have a taste for the absurd, but there's much more to them than merely laughs or a few yuks at their mixture of leatherclad HM riff-o-rama, kraut rhythms and wilfull experimentation. At the very least, they're one of the more interesting 'rock' combos existing today.