What's On The Hi-Fi Talks To...Goodnight Monsters

Chalk it up to long Nordic summer days or a certain wistfulness brought on by winters that last just that bit too long. Whatever the reason, Turku, Finland-based Goodnight Monsters have a clever knack for creating infectious, summer-inflected, indie-pop songs. The tunes are bright and blissfully uncomplicated and lack a certain polish, and they are undoubtedly all the better for it.

The group was formed in 2004 when Valtteri Virtanen and Matti Jasu began playing music together and released their debut album of home recordings in 2005 called The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. The duo later joined with bassist Markus Jalonen and drummer Jussi Rantanen, forming the band’s current lineup.

Valtteri and Matti talk to What’s on the Hi-Fi about their well-received 2008 album Summer Challenge, the band’s (new) direction and touring, and their blessed hometown under siege.

How did Summer Challenge (the group’s first studio album) come together?
Valtteri: At first, we tried to record it the same way we did our first album, DIY style. It didn’t work out that well for some reason, and we completed it in a real studio with producer Petteri Rajanti. The process of making it was kind of long; we started the first recordings in the summer of 2006 and finished the last mixing in early 2008. That doesn’t mean we were sitting in the studio all that time -- the album came together little by little in short sessions. At first it sounded more raw and guitar-driven, but with Petteri Rajanti’s touch it ended up sounding more sophisticated.

The lead-off song’s namesake is the exceptionally affable, clever, loyal and energetic (Black) Labrador. As a first impression, what does that tell us about the album?
Valtteri: Originally the song had lyrics that mentioned a black Labrador. Then it transformed into an instrumental, but the title remained. We put it as the first track because it sounded like a nice intro for the album -- it introduces the upbeat rhythm and the spacey organ sound that kind of goes through the whole album.

I think Labradors are the kind of dogs that don’t seek your attention all the time. They just lie down peacefully and make you like them in their own, lazy way. Maybe that goes for the album as well, or at least for our approach to self-promotion.

When you’re writing, do you set any ground rules in advance, or is it just a gradually evolving process?
Matti:You shouldn’t think too much when writing. Don’t try to please other people, just write the music you like.

Who would you want to play a show with?
Valterri: It would be cool to support some great veteran act that we like, Neil Young or Yo La Tengo, for example. It would also be interesting to play a show with an extended version of our band, like with a horn section or something.

Any plans to strike out on tour in the US / Europe?
Valterri: No current plans at the moment, but we really wish something like that happens soon. So far, we have played some gigs around Europe, and it’s been a lot of fun. We definitely are looking forward to touring again.

Is a new album in the works? What can we expect?
Valterri: Yes, we are rehearsing new songs at the moment and hope to get to record them soon, and do it a little bit faster this time. So far, the new songs sound a bit more loud and raw than the older stuff, but there’ll also be poppy numbers. One of the songs is kind of loungey. One has a Bo Diddley beat. Expect some long guitar solos too.

How would you describe your hometown of Turku (which apparently is subject to an annual onslaught of swarms of youths from the feuding city Tampere, who all jump in Turku’s market square in an attempt to push the city back into the sea)?
Matti: For a start, Turku is a much better place than Tampere! [laughs]

It’s a nice town with a nice river flowing through it. There are lots of clubs and record shops and parks and stuff like that. The live music scene is also lively. It’s one of the oldest cities in Finland.

What’s on your hi-fi at the moment?
Valtteri: Goldfrapp’s new album. It sounds like a mixture of some misty 60’s folk and Saint Etienne, great stuff. Then some Stooges. RIP Ron Asheton. And Luna, I love their late night sound.

Matti: I’ve been listening to Nina Simone’s whole catalogue -- top stuff. Also, some Neil Young, mostly Zuma and the latest album, Sugar Mountain. And I just found a bunch of cheap vinyl from a flea market, including records by Henry Mancini and The Association.

Goodnight Monsters (Official) | MySpace | Klicktrack

Brits On The Bowery...Futurcop! Concert Review

Mercury Lounge, NYC
23 January 2009

Futurecop! offered some really delectable dance treats at this small, rock venue. As the sad, stale sounds pumped out from the apocryphal mega-disco Element, the two Brit-Boys with synths and macs in tow pumped up the crowd with stylish harmonies and odd mixes. Yes, I found myself dancing to New Kids On The Block’s “Step By Step” and that, my friends, is no easy feat. They could obviously have been playing to 2000 rather than 200 but they know that crowds at these small venues set the trends and remember the bands who move them. I definitely gained a measured respect for the duo. I just wish that I could have had a picture of the two dancers up front with harlequin makeup and costumes. It made for a sweet and sweaty beer buzz that will keep me smiling for weeks.

What's On The Hi-Fi...Hush Arbors

Hush Arbors
Hush Arbors
Ecstatic Peace (2008)
Download: “Follow Closely”

Keith Wood and Leon Dufficy create an album that is a sweet and sometimes inspiring work of psych-folk. After glossing over the now tiresome (can’t anybody think of another free thinking folky father) Neil Young comparison, the duo really lift the arc of the sub-genre. On “Follow Closely” - easily the bands most accessible song - there is a confident, pulsing country rock vibe. Other standout tracks like “Sand” ripple with the same power and Wood’s vocals beam from a shy, untouched place. Although, this bunch don’t reinvent they pick and perfect with a quiet ease.

Hush Arbors (Official) | MySpace

In the Name of Love...What's On the Hi-Fi Back Again with U2

Although U2 never really went anywhere in most people’s minds many at What’s On The Hi-Fi might disagree. One thing is for sure that with Martin Luther King Day upon us and Barack Obama on the verge of taking over the reigns of the United States, “Pride In the Name of Love” is Back Again. Written during sound checks on the War tour in 1983, Bono had originally penned the song in answer to Reagan’s military buildup but changed topics apparently influenced by a King biography and another about Malcolm X. The song features a few mistakes such as the time of King’s untimely assassination (lyrics: “Early morning, April 4th, shot rings out...” he was killed in the evening) but it still soars under the able production of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. For us, U2 joined the circus after Joshua Tree and lost the howl and power of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” but for many others they will endure and have a new album due soon.

What's On The Hi-Fi...Juana Molina

Juana Molina
Un Dia
Domino (October 2008)

It’s hard to fathom Juana Molina beginning her career as a comedic actress on Argentinian TV after listening to her new album Un Dia. Her electro-folk style is a refreshing blending of sweet lilting lyrics and harmonies with rich overdubbed guitar work. This is especially present on the eponymously titled lead single. The song, “Un Dia”, swirls and spins a dreamy web around Juana’s multi-layered vocal production causing a trance-like dervish effect to ensue.

After years circling her albums and hearing songs and buzz from Entertainment Weekly and best world music lists, it seems that we finally caught up with this elusive and charming talent. It was definitely worth the wait.

Juana Molina (Official) | MySpace

What's On The Hi-Fi...Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun
EMI Australia / Virgin UK (2008 / 2009)
Download: “Walking On A Dream”

It has taken a bit of time for Australia’s Empire of the Sun to make their way to our fair shores here in Europe / US. Their debut release is a breezy blend of catchy clubby beats, high hats and falsetto choruses. The project sees Nick Littlemore of the sample-happy, electro-dance group Pnau collaborating with vocalist / guitarist Luke Steele of The Sleepy Jackson (whose album Lovers is still a favorite). Sure, Walking on a Dream is an indulgent and quirky exploration of disparate sounds that the duo have clearly been excited to try for some time, some attempts which they pull off with considerably more aplomb than others. That being said, the group’s sound is infectious polished pop in the MGMT / Phoenix vein.

The title track is a hook-laden highlight of when the project does meld, bringing together what each musician does best. The clip for the title song was filmed in Shanghai and provides yet another glimpse into the eccentric Mr. Steele.

Expect to be hearing a lot more about Empire of the Sun in 2009.

Walking On A Drea (Official) | MySpace

Listen to “Walking On A Dream (Remix)” MP3

Hey Now, Hey Now Now...What's On The Hi-Fi and Back Again with Sisters of Mercy

Sometimes bands, songs and albums just won't leave you alone. You misplace that vinyl in your parent's attic, a cassette in your younger sister's car or a CD at a party but for some reason they come back like a George A. Romero zombie. Well that's What's On The HiFi Back Again is about.

Along with King, Echo and the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode came a dark clandestine sound during the early 1980's and that sound was-Hey Now-The Sisters of Mercy! Begun in 1980, this English group mainly worked out goth tunes on guitar until 1987's Floodland which included the kinda classic This Corrosion. This band is back again because none other than cooler than cool Lambchop covered This Corrosion recently. Just their passive aggressive darkness make them more than what was left behind. As quoted from their website "We are a rock'n'roll band. And a pop band. And an industrial groove machine. And intellectual love gods in our spare time." Maybe, just maybe.


Falkor Needs A Bath Atreyu...What's On The Hi-Fi with Futurecop!


The Unicorn & The Lost City of Alvograth
Beatport (2008)
Download: “Starworshipper”

In a mystical world, far off in our past and future, just passed Krull and The Never Ending Story the demon wizards of Futurecop! were spawned. These English lads channel the ghost of Limahl (that's not a bad thing) on most efforts and this time we find them stirring their pot of early 80's dance synth making a batch of surprisingly palatable groove potions. Let's hope that the lovely Ladyhawke from down under never starts an evil brood with these boys. My handblown glass unicorn set just might explode!


Listen to “Futurecop! Starworshipper” MP3

What’s On The Hi-Fi…Faded Paper Figures

Faded Paper Figures
Shorthand Records (January 2008)
Download: ‘North By North’
Existing between the lines of the coolness of Tahiti 80 and the energy of Electric President is Faded Paper Figures. Begun as a side-project by southern California students. John (vocals/guitars) and Kael (guitars/keys/machines) in Kael's apartment bedroom FPF found they hit paydirt almost immediately. Eventually Heather (additional vocals/keys) added some beguiling harmonies, and trio forged a brilliant blend of electronic and pop that radiates on every track of their debut album.

Faded Paper Figures (Official) | MySpace

Listen to “North By North” MP3

What's On The Hi-Fi…Welcome To The Welcome Wagon

The Welcome Wagon
Welcome to the Welcome Wagon
Asthmatic Kitty / Differ-Ant (December 2008)

Download: “Sold! To the Nice Rich Man”

Listening to the Welcome Wagon, I can’t help but be reminded of my third grade teacher Sister Tilly who kept a rather well loved poster of Rod Stewart secreted away in the classroom cupboard -- both are earnest in faith and charmingly left of center.

The Welcome Wagon are the Brooklyn-based duo of Vito Aiuto, a Presbyterian ordained minister, and his wife Monique (who, if the liner notes are to be believed, rather dauntingly “arouses tales of Puritan neatness, with sanguine maxims and beneficent characters”.

Their debut album is a mix of stomp and clap sing-alongs, many adapted from old time hymns, and a few covers including The Velvet Underground’s “Jesus”, and a slightly out of place version of the Smith’s “Half a Person”.

The couple swaps singing duties, and the homespun songs swell with banjos, brass, choirs, percussion and guitars, all under the careful production of friend and label mate Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan’s contributions (both production and musical) to the album are unmistakable and numerous, even to the point where it sounds, at times, like this effort could slot neatly into his own early catalogue.

Despite the project’s highly stylized persona, The Welcome Wagon offer up songs which affirm the couple’s passions, avoiding pretence and a heavy hand. A rare thing indeed.

Come On! Feel the Joy!


Listen to “Sold! To the Nice Rich Man” MP3