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Albums of the Year 2018: Mari Kalkun - Ilmamõtsan | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2018: Mari Kalkun - Ilmamõtsan

Albums of the Year 2018: Mari Kalkun - Ilmamõtsan

Estonian singer-songwriter unites beauty and an understated power

Mari Kalkun’s 'Ilmamõtsan': timeless

Any of the individual elements making up Ilmamõtsan would be enough. Unified, they imbue Ilmamõtsan with beauty and an understated power. That questing Estonian singer-songwriter Mari Kalkun does not sing in English is no barrier to being affected.

The most immediate component is the pure, though commanding, voice. The melodies Kalkun sings are carried with apparent ease, yet they are sinuously unpredictable while instantly memorable. The arrangements seem spare but her accordion, harmonium, kannel (the Estonian zither), chimes, bells and sound-colour from a bone spinner lock together in a balanced latticework without becoming dense, even with some subtle multi-tracking and a contribution from brass instruments. The subject matter of her songs can draw from collective issues – rural depopulation, environmental destruction undertaken by the corporately greedy. And with reflections on the nature of the bonds within family, they are also intimate.

Mari Kalkun is typically categorised as a folk singer but by building from the traditional she breaches boundaries: she is “folk-based”, as theartsdesk’s review of Ilmamõtsan put it. In balancing a respect for genre with a realisation that the familiar can be reconfigured, she slots-in alongside Bridget St. John, the Nico of Desert Shore, Anne Briggs when she was digging into contemporary song, the Judee Sill of “The Donor” and the Sandy Denny of “Autopsy”. What’s most important is that Ilmamõtsan is a great, pleasure-inducing listen.

This could all be why it has been chosen as an album of the year. However, the core reason is that is it repeatedly asks to be returned to. While manifestly remarkable, it neither proclaims “me” or overtly embraces temporally specific and on-trend musical markers. Instead, by taking a deep breath, it gradually asserts a timelessness. If it had been issued next year, in ten years or ten years ago, Mari Kalkun’s Ilmamõtsan would still be an album of the year.

Another Essential Album from 2018

BC Camplight Deportation Blues (Bella Union)

Gigs of the Year

Lucidvox, 1000 Fryd, Aalborg, 27 January 2018; Katarína Máliková, Futurum Music Bar, Prague, 2 November 2018; Motorpsycho, Victoria, Oslo, 30 November 2018

Track of the Year

Jim James “Throwback” (from Uniform Distortion [ATO Records])

If it had been issued in ten years or ten years ago, 'Ilmamõtsan' would still be an album of the year


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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