The Finnish line

Circle bring their metal and minimalism to the US
By SUSANNA BOLLE  |  September 4, 2007

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SHAPE SHIFTERS: Metal, krautrock, minimalism, avant-folk, noise, jazz, improv, ambient, prog — there are many Circles.

With the Finnish band Circle, you learn to expect the unexpected. Over 16 years and dozens of records, the group have evolved and experimented radically, shifting styles from release to release. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, they reveal another musical facet: metal, krautrock, minimalism, avant-folk, noise, jazz, improv, ambient, progressive rock. In 2007 alone, they’ve released no fewer than four full-length albums — and there are more in the pipeline. One moment, the group are in full-on thrash mode, sounding like vintage Bad Brains; the next, they’ve dialed back and dropped out, creating drifting, psychedelic jazz. It’s as if there were not one but many Circles.

E-mailing from Finland, founding member, vocalist, and bassist Jussi Lehtisalo says the secret behind Circle’s recent burst of activity is fairly simple. “We have set our level of self-criticism even lower than before. The artist’s job is to make and forget about the analyzing. The best works of art have always been destroyed when the artists themselves have thrown them in the garbage.”

Their latest CD, Katapult, is due out on Philadelphia’s No Quarter label this Tuesday, the same day that the group kick off a brief US tour with a show upstairs at the Middle East. Like all of their music, it emerged out of improvisation rather than formal composition. “We don’t really do much songwriting,” Lehtisalo admits. “You could call our technique ‘instant composing.’ We aim to construct the songs just before recording, and we act very intuitively. Katapult was recorded at my parents’ summer cabin in a small sauna building with the above-mentioned ‘just before’ technique. We wanted a primitive sound with as many ‘fingerprints’ on it as possible.”

The album is indeed raw and with the seams showing, bearing its makers’ marks at every idiosyncratic twist and turn, even as it leans on the crunching black-metal riffs, guttural vocals, and chugging, repetitive rhythms of krautrock that are perhaps the closest thing to the band’s æsthetic bread and butter.

Formed in 1991 in the west-coast city of Pori, Circle found inspiration in metal and minimalism but added their own peculiar stamp. “We started by copying our idols,” says Lehtisalo, “because we knew it could be a way to find our own uplifting way to express ourselves. We loved monotonic and minimalistic music, we thought that music should not be too active or dramatic. We relied on a primitive and inspiring pulse that would fill the world with millions of colors and take us swiftly over the obstacles!”

Over the years, the line-up has changed often, and Lehtisalo is now the only original member left. The latest iteration is a tight-knit five-piece: Lehtisalo, drummer Tomi Leppänen, guitarist/vocalist Janne Westerlund, vocalist/keyboardist Mika Rättö, and their sound engineer, Tuomas Laurila. As to what they’ll play at the Middle East, there’s no telling — their live shows are as unpredictable as their recordings. There will almost certainly be serious riffage and mesmerizing repetition. “We try to perform and play courageously and passionately,” Lehtisalo sums up. “Speaking of the music, at our gigs, we experience very high and very low tides. However, our main interest is the moment that precedes the actual ‘kicking’ or ‘flow’!”

CIRCLE + ENDLESS BOOGIE + MARISSA NADLER | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | September 11 | 617.864.EAST

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