Blog Tour – Antti Tuomainen; The Mine

A hitman. A journalist. A family torn apart. Can he uncover the truth before it’s too late?

Caution: a tiny, tiny (revealed early anyway so not that huge) spoiler could be found in this review.

From the PR: “In the dead of winter, investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents, and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life.

A traumatic story of family, a study in corruption, and a shocking reminder that secrets from the past can return to haunt us, with deadly results … The Mine is a gripping, beautifully written, terrifying and explosive thriller by the King of Helsinki Noir.”

the-mine-copy-275x423I’m writing this review as closely to finishing the book as possible; I’ve not long turned the final page on Antti Tuomainen’s fantastic The Mine and relished every second of reading it. The pacing and style are brilliantly effective; calmly drawing you in until you realise you’re practically up to your knees in Finnish snow and up to your neck in a complex mystery and there’s no way you’re gonna want to leave this story even after the last page is turned.

Antti Tuomainen does a crackingc job of evoking a sense of place and the remote setting of most of the action – the isolated mine sits in Northern Finland, snowbound, dangerously cold and practically deserted – adds to both the sense of dread and the intensity.

I love a good, complex conspiracy in a book and The Mine delivers this in spades. Taking on some heavy and important themes, this is, indeed, an intelligent thriller, hugely gripping and immensely rewarding.

While I might not have liked Janne as a character – perhaps because his own work-first, family-second approach is so at odds to my own – his determination to get to the bottom of the story is contagious and this is another of Orenda’s recent publications that was ripped through at a pace.

The sub-plot surrounding Janne’s hitman father Emil is perhaps my favourite part of this book. Here is a man who takes life for a living –  in manners described in some darkly delicious scenes – yet his own calm, pedestrian manner are so counter-intuitive as to the preconceived, literary portrayals of such characters as to be utterly fascinating. Here he is calmly throwing a man off a balcony to his death, here he is just as calmly and routinely browsing through books in a bookshop, here calmly snapping someone’s neck mid-run. It’s  handled so fantastically and as though run-of-the-mill that he might just as well be – as he initially tells his son – working in HR.

That Emil’s calm, mild-mannered and thorough manner of carrying through his own occupation contrasts with Janne’s investigative urgency is a great device, especially as the older-man, now so-removed from such concern for taking life, is returning to his son almost as he himself is on the precipice of throwing away his family – giving Janne a much a warning not to repeat mistakes, that it’s the people that matter in life –  just adds to the overall richness of this multi-faceted book.

A huge thanks to Karen at Orenda for sending me yet another ripper of a read, encouragement to check out the other spots on this Finnish Invasion blog tour and a wholehearted recommendation to go and get your hands on Antti Tuomainen’s The Mine.

finnish-blog-tour

Leonard Cohen, RIP

Woke today to the news that, on the 7th November, Leonard Cohen passed away at the age of 82. The Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist had a long and and varied career that saw him pen some of the most revered songs ever put to tape. Taking his colours from the darker end of the palette his were songs that were often better known when sung by others but, in my own opinion, that merely highlighted the quality of his writing. It took a lot to make an arse of such great source material.

While not a huge fan, there’s perhaps just a couple of his albums in my collection (when you factor in that he released  14 studio albums that’s hardly representative), but few could argue that Mr Cohen was an excellent songwriter. Thanks to “Hallelujah” (on which I see Jim at Music Enthusiast has just posted) he’s probably one of the most covered / heard songwriters there is and yet it’s likely few have heard his own version of the song.

Some time ago on a blog almost now forgot I dropped a post citing Songs of Love and Hate as one of my 100 Essential Albums. I’ll share that post here, now, as it seems somewhat fitting:

I know it’s been said before and there’s no way it won’t be said again, and I also know that I’m likely to incur the odd spiteful comment or grimace from those true musos and aficionados that like to put things up on pedestals when I say that I concur with the sentiment that Leonard Cohen writes great songs, for other people to sing.

It sounds awfully popularist to say that Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” is the better (if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s not my favourite JB song) and somewhat cliché to say I’d take Concrete Blonde’s version of “Everybody Knows (and I, surely cannot be alone in that) and that “Tower of Song” is better served by Nick Cave’s vocals. That’s not to say I don’t like Mr Cohen, far from it – nobody can question the man’s ability. It’s just that sometimes his voice doesn’t give the songs the life which that of another artist can breath into it.

That being said, there isn’t, however, a single song on Songs Of Love And Hate that I think is better suited to anyone but Leonard. From the moment his voice pours over the tumbling strings of “Avalanche” to the final “la” of “Joan of Arc”, this album, to my mind (and, hey, what’s this blog all about anyway?) is the perfect match for his voice.

Even “Diamonds In The Mine”, which often gets held up as a ‘what the hell is he doing with his voice?’ works for me – it brings to mind one of Bob’s bitter, angst-ridden, rants. While his voice isn’t in it’s natural key there’s no questioning the sincerity of the emotion it bellows.

The fact that he barely touches “Dress Rehearsal Rag” live because he found it so depressing just speaks volumes. The album itself is pretty damn far from cheerful, his voice aches with regret and despair throughout and for someone so seemingly at home with the bleak to come up with something that he himself finds depressing… I have to take my hat off to it.

For me thought there are two songs that define this album and warrant it’s inclusion on this list – “Avalanche” and, of course, “Famous Blue Raincoat”. The number of times I’ve found myself singing ‘New York is cold but I like where I’m living’ or ‘it’s 4 in the morning, the end of December’ and left them hanging in the air because, frankly, that song is damn near perfect in both it’s lyrics, the way it delivers such power from such relatively straightforward wordplay and a nagging melody. Which is why I love “Avalanche” too. A tumbling, cascade of guitar strung notes plunging you straight away into Cohen’s voice.

While it doesn’t contain his best songs, Songs Of Love And Hate does contain the best songs for himself.

To add a little more to this post I’ll include a couple of other favourites from Mr Cohen’s tower of song:

 

Great Compilations: Asides from Buffalo Tom

Not too long ago – when explaining the need for self-compiling cds/playlists for those artists who already had a compilation out in the world, I mentioned that compilations are strange thing. That you’re never going to please everybody with a selection (in the linear notes for The Essential, Bruce Springsteen suggests that “one man’s NYC Serenade is another man’s Rosalita”*) and that my choice of what I’d consider essential listening very rarely coincides completely with the ‘official’ compiler’s (usually because they’re doing so with a specific, marketing-dictated aim  rather than just cherry picking).

There are some compilations, though, that are as close to perfect and essential as you can get. They do that rare thing of providing as solid, all-encompassing an overview as is possible in a dozen or so tracks in a manner that will provide a great entry-point for the uninitiated and give the already-converted a good career-spanner to listen to when they don’t feel like going through whole-albums. A good track-listing can also allow tracks to breath a little differently, have a better light shone on them than when otherwise buried on an album (see Long Time Comin’ on Springsteen’s Chapter and Verse – of which more to come later).

img_0628So I thought I’d kick this possible-series off with one of my favourite compilations, one that’s been keeping me steady company for a good sixteen years now; Asides from Buffalo Tom.

Now when it comes to recalling bands from Boston, I imagine those that get mentioned would include Aerosmith, The Cars, The J. Giels Band, Pixies, possibly even Dropkick Muphys and, of course Boston. I don’t know how many would pull up the trio of Buffalo Tom but, save for a bit of a break between 2000-2007, they’ve been a stalwart of indie-rock since their first album, the J Mascis produced self-titled effort, dropped in 1988.

After shifting song-writing gears for the 90’s, they became a pretty popular alt-rock band and yet, while Big Red Letter Day even managed to crack the top 20 over here, they never achieved the popularity their songs and music deserved. It is mind-boggling to me, and I’m sure others, that bands like The Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20 got gargantuan levels of exposure while how-did-they-miss singles like “Taillights Fade” and “Mineral” remain songs I have to enthuse to people about as they’ve never heard ’em.

2011_buffalo-tom_tour_dates_13035883982475Of Buffalo Tom, I’ve read of them being described as “like a bar band fronted by an anxiously melancholic whiskey-fueled Alex Chilton” while even the too-cool-for-this Pitchfork said of them: “solo-ridden guitar-god aspirants Buffalo Tom: 1) named themselves after their drummer and Neil Young’s first band because it’d have been too much trouble to come up with anything really new; 2) played assorted variations on the strummy post-pop that filled collegiate airwaves throughout the 1980s because innovation is overrated; and 3) wrote sharply observed conversational lyrics because it was too hard to be obscure.”

This album came into my hands upon day of release thanks to my hearing “Taillights.. ” on a magazine sampler and seeing (just one of so many) highly-starred reviews against this comp. Having since gone back and accumulated the band’s discography, it’s still Asides From that gets the most plays (I’m genuinely surprised the disc hasn’t given out, the case certainly has). It contains the perfect selection of their finest from the 11-year period represented and the non-chronological sequencing makes this feel more like an album of absolute all-killer-no-filler than a compilation-by-rote. Early-cut “Birdbrain”, for example, is daft but is so full of hook as to be a barn-stormer and here rubs shoulders with the more bluesy-throat of “I’m Allowed”.

What such a track-listing also highlights is that, despite their lack of mainstream or commercial breakthrough, Buffalo Tom remained staggeringly consistent in terms of quality – album closer (and then final single) “Wiser” is one of their finest moments but here sits among plenty of equals – and remained ready and willing to bring it to every session.

While it isn’t going to break any new ground or make anyone wonder “how are they doing that?”, Asides From Buffalo Tom contains 18 very strong songs (even their cover of The Jams’ “Going Underground” is worth a listen) – in a way the fact that I’ve still yet to bump into anyone who shares this knowledge makes em feel just that little more ‘mine’. Still, I’m sharing it here and recommend – given how little it’ll cost – it to all.

After the release of Asides in 2000 (and the quickly-following Besides..), Buffalo Tom took a bit of a break – singer Bill Janovitz dropped another solo album, took up real estate, wrote a couple of books on The Rolling Stones – before getting back together and releasing Three Easy Pieces (2007) and Skins (2011). Both reveal the band remain consistently capable of a great tune and contain tracks that could easily sit alongside those on this best of – particularly You’ll Never Catch Him, Down and Don’t Forget Me (which features co-vocals from Tanya Donelly of another Boston band, Belly). There’s hints/rumour/suggestion of new Buffalo Tom music on the way and it’s something that I’m eagerly anticipating – a now long-term love for a band kicked of and continually fuelled by this compilation.

 

*or another combination – it, like all of my music collection, is currently sealed up in a box in the ‘spare’ room of my new house.

Quick List: 2016 in 5 (Gut reaction)

While every sane and right-thinking person on this planet greets this morning’s news with a collective “WHAT THE FUCK?!” I received a “Top 5 songs that reflect 2016” message.

In the spirit of ‘think less, post more’ here are those that, in no particular order, leapt to mind.

Tool – Ænema

The lyrics… the timing signatures…

Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

REM – It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) 

The Rolling Stones- Gimme Shelter

Has there been a better apocalyptic song than this? Or album than Let It Bleed?*

Eels – End Times 

“Crazy guy with a matted beard, standing on the corner. Shouting out “end times are near” and nobody noticed him”

 

 

*No. No there hasn’t.

Out of Europe: A Swedish Top Five

While the stupidity of June 23rd and the fumbling-in-the-dark it lead to continues to dominate the news  (unless America votes in a racist, misogynistic Oompa Loompa today) I thought I’d revisit my initial “Out of Europe” list… I thought I’d go for a region, in this instance Scandanavia, but quickly found I’d come up with five from the same country.

So, in the same “this is what we’re saying goodbye to” thought, here’s a Top Five From Sweden (in no particular order, of course, and without a Waterloo in sight*):

Kristofer Åström – How Can You Live With Yourself

There’s just something so amusing and great about the juxtaposition between those gentle strums and lyrics like “I hope you’ll burn in hell”.

Refused – New Noise

I don’t think I ever was or ever will be – especially as my clock has just clicked over another year closer to 40 and I merge quietly into listening to ‘Dad rock’ – to talk about Refused or profess fandom in the same way I’m probably unlikely to be considered serious when I talk about At The Drive In’s Relationship of Command (“Hello, mother leopard. I have your cub”). I will say, though, that I love and loved The Shape of Punk To Come in all it’s screaming, emphatic and brutal force.

Shout Out Louds – Oh Sweetheart

I cannot recall how I found this band back in the mid 2000’s. Their first album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff is chock full of cracking, upbeat and well crafted tunes like this and The Comeback. I can’t say I’ve heard a great deal since though, so perhaps it’s time to head to Spotify….

Junip – Line Of Fire

Having found solo success on his own with his bare, acoustic tracks and covers (including Heartbeats) José González did the sensible thing and got the band – Junip – back together again. I first found them on the The Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack and then their 2013 self-titled.

Last Days of April – The Thunder & The Storm

I could have put anything from Last Days of April here, they remain my favourite European export and I’d be hard-pushed to find a dud in their catalogue. So I went with something form their latest – last year’s Sea of Clouds – if only for the moment halfway through when the pedal-steel and guitar takes over and just keep going.  For a quick LDOA bracer:

It’s On Everything
I Wish That You Would Mean A Lot Less To Me
Forget About It
Who’s On The Phone (because there’s no way of linking to Lily)
Two Hands And Ten Fingers

There’s some honourable mentions for this one (Sweden has sent some wonderful music out into the world) including that one-hit-wonder Glorious by Andreas Johnson, The Knife – purveyors of the original Heartbeats, and Lykke Li’s wonderful Melodies & Desires.

 

*no matter how many people claim there’s something great in ABBA I cannot stomach them, the DJ at my wedding was even banned from playing them no matter who made a request (I have a list of those that did, too).

Revisiting: Collapse Into Now

Revisiting…..

Since he was old enough to pull himself up and stand holding onto the shelves, my son would reach into the CD shelves that line our hall and pull out an album (or a handful) while I put on my shoes and zipped his coat of a morning. Initially because that’s what toddlers do but subsequently because he’d learn that when he thrust one into my hands odds were that I’d take it out with us and we’d listen to it during the drive – him to the child-minder and me onwards to the office – and the idea of choosing the music for the day appealed to him greatly.

Aside from the fact that he’s already forming favourites and calling out requests (“where’s that Dinosaur Jr?” “Foo Fighters please”) from the back seat before he’s three, it’s meant that as his physical development allowed him to do more than repeatedly grab clusters from the M/N area – he’s been selecting albums that I wouldn’t otherwise do so for myself and, in many instances, hadn’t listened to for years and giving me the impetus to spin things I hadn’t for some time.

Hence; revisiting.

Collapse Into Now

In 1997, a couple of years after a suffering a brain aneurysm on stage in Switzerland, and as the band were due to commence sessions for a new album, drummer Bill Berry told his band mates that he was leaving REM. In the seventeen years he’d sat on his drum stool behind Messrs Stip, Buck and Mills the four-piece from Athens, Georgia had gone from underground, college-scene heroes, broken through with Document and achieved major-label success and sales with Out of Time, Automatic For The People and assured permanent rotation wherever music videos are played with clips for ‘Everybody Hurts’, ‘Losing My Religion’ and, to their own chagrin, ‘Shiny Happy People’.

After announcing his intentions Berry added a caveat; he would only vacate his stool if the others agreed to carry on. As such, the publicity for the band’s next album Up often contained Stipe’s “I guess a three-legged dog is still a dog. It just has to learn to run differently” quote.

I’d gotten quite into REM at this point in time. While I’d played ‘Drive’ on the jukebox at a holiday camp one summer to the point that the guy working there ended up pulling the plug (to be fair he at least gave me my 50p back even if his ‘I think that song breaks it’ lie was weakly delivered0 – it was New Adventures In Hi-Fi that I held and still hold as a great album (‘Departure’, ‘Bittersweet Me’, ‘How The West Was Won and Where It Got Us’, ‘Electrolite’??!) As such Up was purchased by me on day of release. Sadly Berry’s departure also marked the point I pretty much started losing interest. Up has some good songs (3.5 at last count), Reveal was too stodgy and heavy-handed – and marked the last REM album I’d buy for some time – and Around The Sun (or what I’ve heard of it) had all the punch and staying power of a kitten’s fart. Save for the (Berry-co-written) single ‘Bad Day’ from the Warner Bros comp it seemed like the now-three-piece from Athens, Georgia weren’t going to be finding rotation on my stereo again.

But then…. perhaps tired of the inertia and lukewarm reception surrounding their output – Around the Sun had shifted under 240,000 copies in the US – and enthused by working with (finally) a new producer, REM engaged again and, working under tighter pressure and deadlines, released Accelerate; an aggressively upbeat and purposeful album that was, as one critic said, the “sound of a band having enjoyed a good word with themselves”.

For all it’s praise – and I’ve still not added it to my own shelves – Accelerate was a very single-focus album and lacked the subtleties that enthused their earlier and better tracks. I don’t think there was a single mandolin lick to be found. Still, it made me listen again so that, in 2011, when word of a new album and lyric videos for ‘Überlin’ and ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ dropped, Collapse Into Now was one I bought on day of release.

Until this last week I hadn’t listened to it for a couple of years but each and every time I hear this album I find more to enjoy – that naggingly catchy riff that kicks off proceedings with ‘Discoverer’, the vocal power of ‘Oh My Heart’, the breaking out of that joyous chorus of ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ or Eddie Vedder’s contribution to ‘It Happened Today’, the blast that is ‘All The Best’ (in which Stipe portends their plans with “it’s just like me to overstay my welcome”) or the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joy of ‘That Someone Is You’:

Collapse Into Now may not be perfect but then no REM album is 100% (‘Star Me Kitten’, anyone? No, didn’t think so). It is their most consistent and successfully multi-faceted album for a long time and one in which the sheer weight of positives and the quality of the production outnumber its weaker points. Rather than simply play it fast as they’d done with Accelerate, the songs on this album are given space to breath, there are textures that harken back to their earlier work without sounding like re-treads and there’s an overwhelming sense that, once again, they’re enjoying what they do.

Once you’ve reclaimed your reputation – what do you do, though? With their deal with Warner Bros at an end, would they sign to an independent or will they make another massive-money deal? Will they continue this upward trend in quality with another album? With a seemingly-rekindled joy of playing live will they tour?

But they didn’t go for any of that. For it turns out that when they got together to record Collapse Into Now they did so with the idea of  “going out on a high note.” And, in September 2011 (just five months after the album’s release) REM announced their decision to call it a day. With Collapse Into Now, to my ears at least and this is my blog after all, they did just that. After all, I doubt people would be clamouring for more if the last think they’d released had been ‘Leaving New York’.