The third studio album by Finland’s folk quartet Enkel is an altogether enjoyable affair. Enkel is Finnish for angel, and Leija Lautamaja, Miia Palomäki, Maija Pokela, and Iida Savolainen indeed sing like angels, sometimes solo or in duet, sometimes all four together in the intricate and rhythmic harmonic style that’s made other Finnish group popular worldwide. In addition, two of them play melodeons, one the viola, and one the kantele, a dulcimer-like affair also known as a psaltery.
The album’s title belies its sweet sounds. It was recorded as late as June 2022, and the quartet’s members chose the songs with the themes of love and pain in mind, as Europe reeled from Russia’s war against Ukraine. It blends contemporary pieces composed by the band’s members, with traditional tunes and songs on topics such as finding a soulmate or losing one, worrying about your neighbors in the war, and nostlalgia for a childhood friendship. Most of the traditional tracks are dance tunes from the Western parts of Finland, along with a couple of Medieval melodies from the Eastern parts of Finland and Karelia. It’s a little unclear which is which, but I have my guesses.
They lead off strongly with “Etkot Sussulla” (The pre-party) with a long and superb instrumental introduction followed by a fabulous vocal arrangement that shows off these musicians’ strengths. The other bookend of these 12 tracks is “Stare,” a delicate contrapuntal tune that combines modern and older elements. In between you’ll find the whole range of Finnish traditional folk music. On the more traditional side are “Kantelepolkat,” a set of lovely lilting instrumental polkas; the mid-tempo dance tune “Pelimannin kaikuja” (Echoes of the fiddler); and “Joenlaskua” (Count me a river) an old-sounding polka with a strong back-beat that you can really dance to and a lovely kantele solo from Maija.
Somewhere in the middle in terms of trad vs. contemporary are “Kilon paivat” (Days of Kilo), a delicate waltz with kantele on lead, an occasional slip-step, and wordless backing vocals in impeccable harmony; and “Lupa elää” (Let there be life), a Celtic-adjacent tune featuring beautiful three-part counterpoint between the viola and two melodeons, a bit of percussion perhaps from a tapping foot, and extra texture and color from kantele.
Totally modern sounds come from the title track “Kipiä polska” (Love Hurts) a so fast you could hurt yourself dancing to it, containing a middle section that I can only refer to as psychedelic, that would probably involve a totally different kind of dancing; the dark ballad for solo singer “Valat” (Vows); and the modern art song “Portti” (The gate).
The publicity one-sheet from Nordic Notes says Love Hurts reveals “a new, more mature side of the folk music girl band.” The one exception is “Irti maasta” (Joy) with its singsong melody, and vocal mannerisms that verge on childish-cute.
All in all, “Love Hurts” ably presents Enkel as a strong and entertaining new voice in contemporary Finnish folk music.
(Nordic Notes, 2022)