Yet another of Finland’s roster of musical exports, Drowsy is 23 year-old folk singer Mauri Haikenen, and Snow On Moss On Stone is his second album. While its predecessor, last year’s Growing Green, was a compilation of three or four years of material, Snow On Moss On Stone is a much more focussed affair. It’s still a little inconsistent, but when it’s good it’s magical.
Haikenen’s songs are little vignettes of ’60s psychedelia, in the vein of Donovan or Syd Barrett. He has a slightly scratchy, reflective voice that denies his youth, and some deft and off-beat guitar work that complements the whimsical lyrical content perfectly.
The opening track, Bakery, is one of the best on the album, with Haikenen’s delivery sounding a little like a reflective Thurston Moore (if you can imagine Moore singing about a bakery, that is). Hues features some beautiful guitar picking that immediately evokes the gentle sounds of a Finnish lakeside, where the song may well have been written in the first place. In fact the whole album was recorded in Joutseno, a small village right at the southernmost point of the great Karelian lakes, and the influence of that environment is the dominant feature of the album, both lyrically and atmospherically.
The album is at its best when it’s just Haikenen and a guitar. Maybe, given that he plays all the instruments, the constant overdubbing on those tracks with a wider sonic palette lessens the overall impact. Instrumental number Good Old Odd Gold, for example, uses its accordion and percussion to up the energy level, but is a less expressive piece of music overall.
From this point on there are some weaker numbers that move into a dirge-like territory that Haikenen hasn’t quite got the voice to get away with yet – at least on record. Words Of Warmth probably sounds magical when played around a campfire, but it falls a bit flat here – likewise, Bed Of Pyre and Wood may well make you drowsy, but it fails to grab the attention as well as some of the earlier tracks.
When It’ll Be Snowing returns to some pretty guitar picking and a whimsical triplet feel, followed by Off You Go All Authors which returns to the dirgy accordions and nothing else. Again here, Haikenen’s voice lets him down once it’s all alone – the song evokes Tom Waits in his Rain Dogs years, and it will probably take a few more years of heavy drinking before Haikenen can match Waits’ anguished delivery.
The album closes with another instrumental, this time on piano, which again is very bare, and sounds as much like a doodle (albeit an atmospheric doodle) as it does a deliberate piece of music. It’s also quite downbeat, and leaves the album seeming a little disjointed, giving us all its good cheer up front and then sinking into melancholy. This may be representative of a typical Finn’s emotional journey through a nights heavy drinking, but it’s a bit disappointing – after the magic of the first few songs it’s hard not to feel hurt that there wasn’t another one like that towards the end.
All in all though, Snow On Moss On Stone is still a good album with a couple of standout moments – and at such a young age for this type of thing, Drowsy has plenty of time to give us many albums full of nothing but standout moments.