One of the best quotes of the year comes from the promo blurb for Siinai’s new album, Sykli: “…this album burst out of us, like when a ketchup bottle loses its cap when you are violently shaking it.” This from a band that in the past has also released an instrumental concept album about supermarkets1Yes, Siinai are a strange Finnish act that do odd things. This album’s concept isn’t as weird as “music to shop to.” Instead, Skyli professes to be about the cyclical nature of life. Considering that this is an instrumental album, figuring out how well it conveys a concept can be tough, but that’s why we get the big bucks, right?
There is incredibly little information available about Siinai. They seem to be a Finnish 7-piece outfit, although I can’t fathom what all seven of them do: the five songs here on Sykli seem like they could all have been put together by one or two individuals and a decent synth/drum setup. That’s not to say they are bad songs, or that they sound amateurish: rather, the sparse instrumentation leads me to the above musing. “Temppeli” kicks things off, opening with glistening synth patches, layers upon layers (maybe there are six keyboardists and a drummer?) building, ebbing, and flowing throughout the eight minute track. Like much of the album, it’s a hypnotic song that can really suck the listener in, especially (not that I can prove this) if one is under the influence of certain mind-altering substances2.
Drums and other percussion enter the picture in “Mestari,” the second track, which again is built around a simple synth melody. For six and a half minutes, drums, shakers, keyboards, and wind instruments (or digital versions thereof) undulate throughout the mix. Again the word hypnotic comes to mind, as the rhythm established in the first seconds never wavers. That is the theme throughout Sykli: take a simple melody and build a relatively long, mesmeric track around it. This can be highly effective, and at times through Sykli’s 46 minutes it is, notably the title track, which features guitar at the root rather than keys, and album closer “Europa,” which is an excellent, sinister number that towards the middle transitions into a somewhat upbeat, driving piece before being overtaken by feedback-drenched noise.
Listening to this theme repeated five times, albeit with different arrangements and instruments at the center, does bring on a feeling of sameness. The tempo and feel of each song is constant, pensive for the most part, not really invoking any clear reaction – although “Europa” definitely made me pay closer attention, with its well-executed baleful overtones. And as far as the concept goes, I suppose one could make the case both for and against picking out the theme throughout. Google Translate doesn’t offer a ton of help, as the song titles translate into words like “Temple,” “Master,” and “Cycle.” Discarding the thought of theme or concept doesn’t take away from the songs, but dig deep enough and I am sure the symbolism is there.
The issue with Sykli isn’t really the music: it’s the replayability. After eight listens, the only track I want to come back to is “Europa.” But that’s not to say the other four tracks suck: rather, they just don’t stick with me. Sykli is clearly an album to play under certain conditions, be that when you’re raking leaves, doing dishes, painting, or comatose on the chesterfield having taken a handful of mind-altering chemicals. The production and mix are effective, but the album as a whole simply doesn’t transport the listener to a place where they will want to go over and over. It does make me curious as to how Siinai‘s supermarket concept album sounds, however.