Video: Frida Hyvönen – “Gold” (To The Soul, 2012)
I’ll have to wrap up To The Soul quickly. It’s all worthy of your attention, but here are a few things I’ve alluded to or promised:
1. “Gas Station”
Anyone who misjudged the opening of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories as pure ostentation will likely find parts of Frida Hyvönen’s “Gas Station” similarly ludicrous—the splashing cymbals and rumbling piano that introduce the song, the evenly matched synth and vocal that pierce the verses where the chorus should be. The listener, if he’s still carrying around that nagging narrative that stretches all the way back through Hyvönen’s discography, better just dispense with it now. No sound is off limits.
Those chorus placeholders are the products of fantastic, overwhelming joy, as Hyvönen navigates the complex history of a social space, and the sudden obscenity of her musical language (foul, indeed) is both awesome and appropriate. “There were boys and they knew how to dance,” she sings before one of the song’s crescendos, extending the last word into a heavenly sigh. Between those peaks, too, every sound is calculated for dramatic effect. Even the piano is just a tool in her kit, low, sustained notes punctuating the verses along with drum pad hits and a bed of crackling effects. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to imagine her playing this song in a solo piano arrangement. But why bother? “Gas Station” is not the end result of steady musical evolution, but another fine example of singular artistic choice.
2. The full story of Hyvönen crossing paths with a former member of ABBA
There’s not much to it: She recorded To The Soul at Benny Andersson’s studio and played with him on “Postcard,” one of the album’s most modest and charming songs.
3. Increasingly bold exploits with the malleability of the word “come”
On “In Every Crowd,” Hyvönen plays around with near-homophones the way Deerhunter once did (“comfort/come for/cum for”). She opts for “command/come and”; seconds later, a well placed pause separates a crucial, adverbial “up” from its intended phrase. None of these things obscure her clear demands, but I barely know how to transcribe the resulting moment. Perhaps:
Command: fuck me
With your wicked love.
To The Soul’s closing track is the main reason I wanted people to be listening to the album upon its initial release, simply because Hyvönen’s tale of a European in India, interlacing faintly exotic imagery with a beguiling sense of ambivalence and self-awareness, warranted some new kind of conversation about songwriting. That old question—“Who do you belong to?”—echoes everywhere, for herself, for her strange surroundings. Perhaps it’s too late now to do anything but find beauty here, both in the music (impossibly rich, with a subtly distorted peace, an album finale in the manner of R.E.M.’s “Find the River”) and the words (“My first walk alone in India,” etc.).
The tension between the narrator’s ostensibly perfect happiness and her creeping loneliness gives the song a great deal of its power. She’s engaged to wed, and might be that same not-quite-satisfied non-marrying kind from “My Cousin”:
I never thought that I would marry
What’s gotten into me lately?
But through force of will, she can dispel her hesitance. I mentioned before the way Hyvönen seems embarrassed by the plainness of one of her rhymes—“On the inside of the ring it says we got married in the spring”—hitting a sudden, breaking high note on “spring.” But I failed to mention what happens when she returns to this line at the end of the song, imbued with the momentum of confession, giving the words a deliberate, deep-voiced resonance. After that, it’s the story of “I love you,” with all that can mean.
That’s all, folks. Thank you for reading, and thank you to my sisters, who got me here. So much of the music of my life has been hand-me-down; the rest wouldn’t have been possible without the initial volley of musical passion my sisters demonstrated to me as a kid.
The examples are endless. I particularly remember Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes being a huge part of my childhood for years, and then returning in an infinitely more personal way when I was 21.
The turn-around time has shrunk for newer artists. Emily loved Frida Hyvönen’s Silence Is Wild just a few years before I did, fully. Still, her enthusiasm was a clear signal that I was missing out on something important.
When I approach Hyvönen on my own, I often feel I understand only a small part of what she’s communicating, and identify with an even smaller part, but this strikes me as an appropriate case for love. Do I seem certain? I hope not. What I respond to, mostly, is the artist’s struggle and willingness to make herself known, and in that way I hear Hyvönen as an unrivaled performer in recent music.